Day 18 – State Calls the Mother of Marvin Roberts, Brother of John Hartman

Day 18 – October 29, 2015

The State of Alaska called Hazel Roberts, the mother of accused Marvin Roberts, as the first witness of the day. In disjointed and wandering videotaped testimony aired earlier in the week, former Roberts acquaintance Margaretta Hoffman claimed that on the night John Hartman was killed she was at the Roberts home doing cocaine, getting drunk, and was ultimately part of a conspiracy to throw away shoes. Hoffman, a self-confessed user of methamphetamine and cocaine since 1993, provided testimony which did not comply with any testimony given by any others in the case. Hazel Roberts was called to the witness stand in response to the Hoffman claims and reiterated her original testimony, which matches those of the other household members and has been consistent from her first contact with police in 1997 through today. She knew Hoffman, Roberts said, and did hang out with her a few times, but not the night in question. None of the things Hoffman testified to happened. When a 19-year-old Marvin Roberts came home the night in question everyone was in bed, there was no remarkable entrance, no shoes thrown out, nothing but a quiet return. Marvin Roberts turned off the light above the stove and went to bed.

The testimony of Hazel Roberts was followed by Chris “Sean” Kelly, John Hartman’s brother. Although in earlier filings special prosecutor described Sean Kelly’s testimony as “words he could never forget,” and indicated some absolute proof would come from Kelly as to the guilt of the Fairbanks Four, his testimony was focused mostly on forgotten words, gaps, heartbreak, confusion.

KellyKelly took the stand dressed in gray, his clean-cut and angular face unmistakably similar to the pictures of victim John Hartman. Unlike Hartman, who has remained frozen at the entrance to adolescence in his death, the years were evident on Sean Kelly, who is no longer the lanky teen brother from the original case footage, but a middle-aged man.

Kelly testified that shortly after his brother’s death he was incarcerated at Fairbanks Correctional Center with the Fairbanks Four. According to Kelly, he approached Eugene Vent one night and confronted him. Kelly recalls Vent saying, “We didn’t know that was your little brother.” Kelly was unclear on any other words exchanged. To the clear frustration of Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman, he could not recall portions of earlier statements about the incident. Bachman alleged that Eugene Vent had made more incriminating confessional statements to Kelly.

“It didn’t go down like that, I wouldn’t…No, that’s….it’s not what I remember,” Kelly said.

“It would help that the truth comes out, no matter what. I would like some closure,” Kelly said in an interview after testimony.

After his testimony was complete Kelly discussed the process with reporter Stephanie Woodard. He said that testifying brings back the pain of his brother’s murder. He talked about his mother crying, this very specific and unforgettable cry, a bedside vigil for a beloved little brother who was so brutally attacked that footprints remained on his skin.

Chris “Sean” Kelly seems to still believe that the right men are in prison for his brother’s death. Petitioner’s attorney Whitney Glover attempted to open with condolences from her clients to Kelly, which he bristled at. After a long list evidence pointing toward the alternative suspects, Kelly countered, “well they’re not the ones sitting in jail for it.”

And if Kelly believes the right men are in prison, that is okay. None of us can possibly imagine what it would be like to live through what he has. He lost a baby brother at the hands of really horrible people who committed a disgusting awful unthinkable crime. The pain of losing a loved one to that kind of violence is beyond understanding. In his grief and pain he was assured by the people in power that his brother would get justice, that they had the right guys, and those guys would pay. It is only natural that he is attached to the story, it is how they made sense from something that does not make sense. There is a life path for him, he is on it, and if God sees fit to change Kelly’s mind he will. Until then, we hope advocates for the Fairbanks Four can see Kelly simply as a grieving man who suffered a serious loss, who is willing to face it down, remember his brother with honor, and a man who deserves our kindness.

For eighteen long years this case has never, despite the sincerest desires of the State of Alaska, “gone away.” For John Hartman’s family the violence that took their loved one remains splashed across headlines, a hot topic on social media, the subject of films. It must be extremely painful.

Injustice reaches across many lives and leaves much pain in its wake. It is time for the story of this injustice to end.

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Day Four – Scott Davison vs. Adrienne Bachman

October 8, 2015

Scott Davison, Newsminer Photo

Scott Davison, Newsminer Photo

The fourth day of proceedings in the Fairbanks Four case focused largely on the testimony of Scott Davison, who testified that Jason Wallace confessed his role in the Hartman killing just days after the murder to Davison and another student.

According to Davison’s testimony, he and a friend were sitting in a car in the Lathrop High School Parking lot just days after Hartman was murdered when Wallace jumped in and the three ditched school to smoke weed. When they were parked near the bowling alley a few blocks away, Wallace produced the local newspaper and told Davison and driver Matt Ellsworth that he and his friends were the ones truly responsible for killing Hartman.

Davison talked about his struggle to come forward, and that he believed Wallace’s threat to kill him if he did, then and now. In previous videotaped deposition, Mr. Davison said he felt blessed that the Innocence Project had tracked him down and allowed him to unburden himself of a secret that had tormented him for years. Davison  also outlined other attempts to come forward, most notably when he disclosed the Wallace confession to Officer Avery Thompson, who failed to record only that portion of the interview and did not pursue the information. Thompson blowing the information off, Davison said, was discouraging.

Officer Thompson took the stand briefly and denied much memory of the Davison statements, but came up stammering when the Fairbanks Four counsel produced a string of emails between he and his supervisor (as well as original investigator) Jim Geier to counter his claim that the one-time conversation was never expanded upon. He defended the failure to record the interview its entirety.

Davison’s former girlfriend and mother of his children took the stand as well to confirm that Davison had told her about the Wallace confession during their relationship, which spanned the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

During cross-examination, State prosecutor belabored Davison’s inability to remember small details of his day or life in 1997 – how many credits he was taking that semester, for example, or small inconsistencies in his story – in one interview he described a man he confided the confession to as a friend, in another he described the man as an acquaintance. Davison defended his inability to remember such distant minutia, stating simply that perception is like that – that he had forgotten small details of the day but that Wallace’s confession was “tattooed into my mind.”

Bachman has previously attacked Davison from all angles, including rather dishonestly in the initial state response to the post conviction filing, and during questioning Davison was frank at his distaste for her tactics. “How is that relevant?” he asked when questioned about his children. He was consistently vocal about her questioning, and at one point when referring to a previous meeting with Bachman he stated that he hadn’t recognized her because she “had her nice face on” then. Judge Paul Lyle had to quell laughter from the public at the remark. In the end, Davison acknowledged his inability to remember some details, but was adamant about his testimony regarding the Wallace confession.

“I am not lying. He confessed to me.” Davison reiterated.

Judge Paul Lyle is taking the approach of hearing everything and considering admissibility when proceedings finish. This leaves his decision solidly unpredictable, as it is possible that any of the witnesses will have testimony excluded from the decision. However, for the time being it allows for the testimony to be heard and as such become public, and Davison proved a powerful addition to the discourse.

A few links for news coverage:

Newsminer

Day Two – A Prison Guard Bolsters an Inmate’s Confession, State Denies Courtroom Access

October 6, 2015 –

During the second day of the Fairbanks Four hearing, two witnesses and one argument over the right of the petitioners to attend proceedings dominated the day.

torquatoCalifornia Prison employee Officer Torquato and his supervisor’s video taped depositions were played in the courtroom. Torquato is the correctional officer, working as chaplain and educational officer in 2011, who first alerted authorities to Holmes’ involvement in the Hartman murder. Holmes confessed to Torquato, but vowed he would never name names or come forward with the story. Torquoato described in his testimony attempting to persuade Holmes to come forward to no avail, then seeking the guidance of his supervisor. Both correctional officers remember writing out the Holmes account and sending it to Fairbanks Police Department, after first making contact with officer Nolan there. The FPD ultimately did nothing with the confession. Torquato further described how he encouraged Holmes to come clean over a period of months, and how eventually Holmes wrote out his confession and sent it to the Alaska Innocence Project.

The two men, uniformed in khaki, spoke matter-of-factly about the Holmes confession and the events that followed, although at one point Officer Torquoato became more emotional in explaining his motivations for taking action, and that he could not live with the idea that four innocent men were in prison. The officers were a stark contrast to the law enforcement community in Alaska, who have roundly denied even the potential existence of wrongful conviction, and their testimony was believable. Adrienne Bachman objected to admissibility premised on hearsay, but Judge Lyle overruled her objection, reiterating that he would take in testimony and determine later which portions he was able to rely upon in his decision.

The correctional officer’s depositions served to bolster the testimony of Holmes, who took the stand the previous day to testify to his role in the 1997 murder for which the Fairbanks Four have been imprisoned for nearly 18 years.

The Fairbanks Four attorneys also focused on refuting the State’s claims that Holmes came forward to enact revenge on Jason Wallace. Holmes and Wallace committed not only the Hartman murder together, but also four other killings, and ultimately Wallace took the stand against Holmes to receive leniency in his own charges during their respective trials. Judge Lyle appeared to agree with the Fairbanks Four’s counsel that Holmes did not appear to have anything to gain, and had he been interested in revenge would have taken the opportunity during their murder trials.

A procedural issue which has ignited outrage amongst supporters of the four men was also prominent in proceedings. Superior Court Judge Lyle had previously ordered the State of Alaska to transport George Frese, Kevin Pease, and Eugene Vent from their prisons hundreds of miles away to the local jail for the evidentiary hearing. The state did so but refused to absorb the cost of transporting the men the few miles from the jail to the courthouse during proceedings and keep them there under guard. After being pressed for a dollar figure associated with the men attending their own exoneration proceedings, the State supplied the figure of $500 per man per day, for a total of $1500.00 per day. The community of Fairbanks, outraged at the idea that individuals were being prevented from attending the proceedings which would determine their future, raised nearly $10,000.00 in a matter of days to help the men appear in person.

John SkidmoreWhen attorneys for the men revealed that the money for them to attend had been raised, John Skidmore with the Alaska Department of Law initially stammered over the phone from his Anchorage office, then asked for time to determine a response. Shortly thereafter he announced that in light of the defendants “having funding” the total cost had been raised to $4,800.00 per day, that the men would be guarded by two troopers a piece, remain handcuffed, and that the troopers would be flown in from Anchorage each day and flown back, despite there being nine designated Judicial Services troopers in Fairbanks. In addition to the outrageous and more-than-tripled dollar figure, the State went on the say that to meet their own demands would be to taxing and that they did not want to do it all. John Skidmore is a favorite lackey of the state, and is pictured above in a Alaska Daily News photo explaining a 2014 missing-drugs-scandal where he neither confirmed nor denied anything with remarkable adeptness at saying a lot of nothing and taking no accountability, a party trick he repeated for the October 6th proceedings.

In his ruling, Judge Lyle acknowledged the importance of the request and explained that it was outside the power of the court to order the state to bring the men to court. He was apologetic as he denied the motion for the men to attend.

Although supporters of the Fairbanks Four are outraged by the transparent and absurd effort to keep the accused out of court, and it is indeed outrageous, we have resolved to be grateful. The Alaska Innocence Project was not awarded a Department of Justice grant that they have depended on as their major source of operating funds. The State of Alaska’s rather disgusting attempts to dodge facing the innocent in court should be a motivation to us all to be sure they face the innocent in court over and over. The $10,000 raised to send the men to court will now be donated to the Alaska Innocence Project, and we hope to triple that figure by the end of the month. The answer to darkness must always be light. So, thank you Ms. Bachman and Mr. Skidmore, together you have inspired us to make sure you continue to face the innocent. Next time, we will be prepared to assure that involves looking them in the eye.

To donate to the fund to support the Innocence Project CLICK HERE! If everyone who saw this post gave just $1 we would have $30,000 in a matter of a few days.

Below are a few links to coverage of day two:

Newsminer – Judge Denies Motion for Attendance

KTUU Day Two – VIDEO