Bloody Photos of the “Bloodless” Crime Scene Emerge

Aside

ImageWhen Calvin Moses and his passengers came upon a young John Hartman badly beaten, barely alive, and draped over a curb around 2:50am on that cold night in October 1997, the sight of his body was so frightening that the four adults did not get out of the car for fear the attackers were still nearby. They rushed to a nearby apartment complex and called 911. In fact, John Hartman was so bloody and badly beaten that they could not tell if he was a boy or girl, face up or face down. Only that if he was alive, he was barely alive.

One EMT who responded to the call was so badly shaken that he called home, woke his wife, and pleaded with her to lock the door. In the first newspaper article about the case (HERE) the lead detective described the crime scene as “horrific.”

Perhaps Detectives Aaron Ring and Jim Grier (who did the bulk of the police work on this case) believed that when the lab results came back from the car, the clothes, boots, shoes, hands, and feet of the four young men they had arrested in the hours immediately following the girssly discovery of the murdered boy, that the lab results would show what any reasonable person would expect to find on the people and car used to commit a violent stomping and beating death – DNA. And lots of it. But the lab results didn’t tie the Fairbanks Four to the victim. So, they tested, and retested. They took Marvin’s car apart to the point that it cannot be reassembled, searching for blood. And they found NONE.

NO DNA EVIDENCE HAS EVER LINKED THE FAIRBANKS FOUR TO THE CRIME THEY ARE CHARGED WITH COMMITTING.

When the police realized that there was no physical evidence linking Marvin Roberts, Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent, or George Frese to the murder of John Hartman, they did not begin looking for other leads. They did two things – they shopped for jailhouse snitches and “lost” a lot of evidence that would have supported claims of innocence by the four young men and pointed to the guilt of others.

So many things have been lost in the Fairbanks Four case. Life. Time. Freedom. Hope. Memory. Intangible things.

But a lot of other things were lost. Tangible things. Evidence. For example, the first interview police did with Chris Stone. That was “lost.” The transcript of the police interview with EJ Stevens simply directs the reader to the audio recording. Somehow, it was lost. Perhaps no coincidentally “lost” piece of evidence stands out more than the missing crime scene pictures. With no photographs of the crime scene, the public and juries had to rely on the word of the investigators who examined the crime scene (primarily Ring and Grier).

For many in the Native community the moment that the crime scene went from “horrific” to “virtually bloodless” was the moment when it became completely clear that something was extremely wrong with this case. These are, after all, a people who have many times seen a death on the first winter snows when they are blessed with a moose to feed their families. The idea that place where a boy was kicked and beaten to death would be bloodless has long seemed to be a deliberate lie. We can now confirm that anyone who saw the crime scene and later described it as bloodless was lying, and readers can confirm that for themselves by looking at the recently unearthed photograph above.

When KTUU Channel 2 Anchorage did their documentary The 49th Hour: The Fairbanks Four, they were granted access to the historical footage shot by KTVF. During this same KTUU documentary (which you can watch HERE) the CURRENT Fairbanks Police Department police chief applauds the exemplary work of the detectives who investigated the murder of John Hartman, even calling it “model” police work. In that film footage from KTVF that KTUU producers unearthed, buried in the long-forgotten reels of film shot the day that John Hartman died, were a series of images of the crime scene the police and DA described as bloodless. This photograph of the place John Hartman was killed looks exactly as we would have imagined.

Those of us that live with the land and feed our children with what we can gather and hunt know something about blood and snow. We have seen the warm blood of an animal hit snow and race across the surface, frozen. We have seen it seep, and spread slowly from a wound. The place where a life is taken, even when taken respectfully with one swift and cordial wound, is marked on the snow until spring washes it away. We know the way that snow makes blood sticky, how the course hair of moose cling to your hands and boots and resists any attempt to cast it away.

To take a life is to spill blood, and blood remains there where life poured out, and upon those who touched it. It tracks on boots and pants, fingers and hands. Life does not disappear without a trace. John Hartman did not lose his life without leaving a mark behind. Those who killed him did not leave the scene of the crime without the blood of John Hartman on their feet, in their car, on their clothes, their shoes, and hands.

That DNA evidence probably washed over time, as seasons changed. But blood is on the hands of many in the case of the Fairbanks Four: Those who really did kill John Hartman, those who chose to deliberately wrongfully convict the Fairbanks Four believing they had so little value that they would never be remembered and fought for, and those who “lost,” altered, hid, corrupted, and lied. Those people have blood on their hands that cannot be washed away with water or with time. For all those in our community and world who have blood on their hands through murder, corruption, conspiracy, or through the crime of silence, we have a prayer always on our lips and in our hearts for you – that someday you will be free from the prison you built for yourself. That you will choose to redeem yourself as best you can during your time on this earth. That you remember that every day that innocent men spend in prison for a crime they did not commit, you commit another crime, and your guilt grows.

You can try to bury the truth. You can try to outrun it, you can try to lose it by forcing it deep into the darkest theatres of the mind. But you cannot destroy it. You can take a lot from another human being – their life, their time, even their hope. But you cannot take their story, and you cannot take the truth. Truth has a power of its own, and someday, the truth will FREE THE FAIRBANKS FOUR.

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Love Gonna Bust Me Out – A Letter from Kevin

Kevin has spent many years in silence. In the early media reports in  and in the press coverage throughout the trials Kevin was relentlessly attacked, more so than the others. The police pushed this media agenda, because in their theory they considered him the ringleader.  It was amazing in a way to watch it unfold – to watch him remain quiet and outwardly calm while his world crumbled around him. Steady.

After his conviction, many people stood behind his claim of innocence, but none as strongly or courageously as his mom, the late Carol Pease. He is pictured with her here. It is hard to imagine the grief that Kevin has had to live with. He lost his father a short time before being wrongfully accused, and his mother shortly after his wrongful conviction, all as a very young person. Yet, amazingly, through all of this his faith remains strong.

In this post, Kevin tells his own story. Like with the other letters, the truth in his words is palpable. Painfully clear. Facts, documents, transcripts, legal opinions, and the like abound in this case, and they all back up the claim that these men are innocent.  Still, nothing makes that statement as poignantly than the truth in their own words. Here they are:

PLEASE, if you or ANYONE you know has information about the case call, write, email or do anything you like, just do the right thing. The best person to bring new information and tips to is Bill Oberly at the Innocence Project in Anchorage – 907-279-0454. His email is info@alaskainnocence.org and tips can be made anonymously.

If you were involved in any way in this case, please consider coming forward today and submitting your OWN story. These pieces build a picture together, and each piece is important. Contact US on the Facebook page.

HATE, indeed, put these men in prison, and LOVE will set them free someday. YOUR LOVE, courage, and support, to be specific. So keep it coming!!! Sign the petition, join us on Facebook, and spread, spread, spread the word. We send these pages back to the boys, so feel free to add a comment for Kevin below.

Kevin’s Last Night – Timeline

Kevin Pease spent most of the night of October 10th and the early morning hours of October 11th with other teenagers at a house party. Much of the night is painfully ordinary – he of course could have had no idea as he went through his night that each moment would come under scrutiny. That as he climbed into a car stuffed to the brim with teenagers, laughing and enjoying the night, across town a boy had never met was being beaten to death. That he would come to be wrongfully convicted of that crime. That this night would become the one that divided his life into a before and after.

One of the kids he was with for much of the night was Eugene Vent, who of course would be accused as well. Below is a detailed timeline of his activities and movements, derived from police transcripts of interviews with others, and testimony from his trial.

10:00 pm – Kevin is with a group of kids who are all getting a ride from Christy Moses in a van who stop by Eugene’s house to pick him up. They are all headed out to a party at Kevin Bradley’s house off Chena Pump Road.

10:30 pm – The group arrives at the house party, where they play drinking games, listen to music, and hang out for the next several hours. One of the people there is Joey Shank, who doesn’t drink and is the designated driver that night.

1:30 am – A group of nine kids, including Joey Shank (sober driver), Kevin, Eugene, Shawna, Allen, Shara, Eddie, Nathan, and Dana pile into Kevin Bradley’s mother’s car and drive toward town. Kevin Bradley was ready to have the party end, and the group was hoping to meet Conan at the Eagle’s Hall. About this same time, across town, Hartman is attacked. Read his timeline HERE.

1:50 am – Joey Shank and his passengers arrive at the Eagle’s Hall. All of them, except for Shara and Nathan, get out of the car. Kevin, Eugene, and the rest stand outside on the porch talking with people who are outside. Only Dana goes inside, and looks for Conan (Everyone was! See the PAGING CONAN post). Joey estimated that they stayed for five minutes.

1:55 am – After Dana determines that Conan isn’t at the reception, the group all jumps back in the car. Eugene hopped in the front seat even though Kevin had called shotgun, so Kevin got Eugene to move and Kevin rode in the front, Eugene squeezed in with the rest in the back. They left to drive  to Conan Goebel’s house.

2:05 am – The group arrives at the Goebel Residence, but Conan isn’t home. Shawna Goebel, Kevin Pease, Eddie, and Nathan get out at the Goebel house. Joey Shank drives the rest of his passengers (Eugene Vent, Shara, and Allen) back to the Eagle’s Hall. Kevin hangs out at the Goebel residence briefly

2:15 am – Kevin walks home.

2:50 am – Kevin is at home and gets in an argument with his mother, the late Carol Pease. He woke her up when he came in, she was angry, and the two argued. Kevin overturns some potted plants  in anger. He then gets upset and leaves on a three-wheeler.

3:00 am – Carol calls the police to tell them that Kevin left on the three wheeler without permission. Of course she would have had no way to know that this call would in part cast suspicion her son’s way, and deeply regretted ever having made the call. In an interview in 2001, she sobbed while explaining to reporter Brian O’Donoghue how trivial the incident had been and how sincerely she blamed herself for her son later being framed in the Hartman case.

3:15 am – (approximately) Kevin arrives back to the Goebel residence, where settles to sleep on the floor. Conan, Shawna, Shara, and a handful of others confirm that Kevin arrived by three wheeler and spent the remainder of the night sleeping there at the house.

The testimony of a crowded house party and packed car, with the especially time-aware testimony of Joey Shank, place Kevin across town at a party and in a crowded car during the crucial times surrounding the assault of John Hartman. Like the others, Kevin is not linked to the crime by physical evidence of any kind, and has an abundance of abilis for the critical time.

In the flurry of press and speculation, the community of Fairbanks made these four young men into monsters in their minds, and were so blinded by the desire for closure that they did not consider the facts, and the gaping holes in the police theory. But dehumanizing these young men came first – perhaps if anyone had remembered that these young men were sons, brothers, friends, human beings, none of this could have ever happened. So, we will close with this picture of a young Kevin Pease as a reminder to all that these four accused were human. As a warning that this could have happened to anyone’s child, still can today. That Free the Fairbanks Four movement is a human rights movement at its core. Sign the petition to end this injustice here.

I Shall Be Released – Video Post

This short video covers the most basic information about this case. This is a great thing to pass along, link to, post on Facebook, tweet, text, and spread far and wide. Many people who do not have the time to read the case files have three minutes to watch a video.

The soundtrack is I Shall Be Released as sung by Walter Trout and the Free Radicals

They say everything can be replaced

But every distance is not near

So I remember every face

Of every man who put me here

They say ev’ry man needs protection
They say ev’ry man must fall
Yet I swear I see my reflection
Some place so high above this wall
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

Standing next to me in this lonely crowd
Is a man who swears he’s not to blame
All day long I hear him shout so loud
Crying out that he was framed
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

 

Dead Man Walking – A Witness and Song Come Forward

“In times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

In the days and weeks following the murder of John Hartman many, many people who came forward to tell the truth were treated poorly by police, threatened, and terrified by their experiences. In barely veiled threats, some were even made to believe that if they stuck with their story they may become suspects in the murder as well.

“You keep asking me for the truth, I keep telling you the truth, I don’t understand…” cried one fifteen year old being interviewed. Incarnations of her fear, tears, confusion, and BRAVERY when being pressured to give up the truth and accept someone else’s lies are echoed in many, many interviews with the case.

Why? Because by telling the truth in a climate of deceit, these ordinary people were threatening to tear down all that the investigators thought they had built in the early days following John Hartman’s murder.

The police had a lot of things going for them in the moments, hours, and days immediately following John Hartman’s death. They had four men in custody, two of whom relented to some degree to the aggressive and relentless interrogation and had arguably implicated themselves in a murder. They had collected shoes and boots, pants and shirts, jackets and caps, and the alleged getaway car. All evidence was sent to a crime lab, and they likely expected the tests performed there to confirm their theory. Early, brief conversations with the a handful of the people the men claimed to have spent the evening with made it seem at least possible that all four of the men had been at the Eagles’s Hall at 2 am or shortly after. The police theorized that they had met up at that point, taken a short drive down the street, beaten and sexually assaulted John Hartman for being white, then parted ways. Perhaps they expected that as time went on more witnesses would come forward to confirm their theory. They announced that the crime was solved, and maybe they believed it was. A story of the beating appeared on the front page of the local paper, followed the next day by mug shots of the four arrested. And then, the station was flooded with calls. Witnesses did come forward, including one call that would throw the first of many, many wrenches into the case the investigators were building.

The call came from Melanie Durham, a resident at the women’s shelter adjacent to the crime scene. A house where women and children go to escape fists and feet and men that would hurt them. A place women go so that they do not have to hear children plead weakly for help. On the deck outside this place, Melanie heard a murder.

Melanie said that she knew what time John Hartman had been killed. She had been watching the Late Night with Conan O’Brien show that night, and David Bowie was the musical guest of the evening. She is not a Bowie fan. As he began his performance at 1:30 am, she stepped outside for a cigarette. As the door shut behind her, David Bowie played the first acoustic notes of his song for the evening. He played “I’m Afraid of Americans,” and  “Dead Man Walking.”

Melanie could not hear Bowie’s voice haunting the air inside, “I’m gone, gone gone, like I’m dancing on angels. And I’m gone, through a crack in the past…”

Outside the air was freezing cold and dead empty, silent. Melanie lit a cigarette. Then, she heard a smacking sound, a crack in the silence. A familiar sound. Violence had brought her to this place, she knew its soundtrack. She heard one smack, another, another. She heard a small voice plead for help. She heard darker voices respond without mercy. And then, a return to silence.

Melanie rushed inside, told a night shift worker at the shelter what she had heard. The two stood outside together for a moment, listening. They heard nothing. So, they did not call for help.

Inside, perhaps  David Bowie crooned the last of his song, “I know who’s there, when silhouettes fall…… and I’m gone..”

When Melanie saw the article about the boy in the paper, she called the police to tell them her story, to tell the truth. Her timeline was strong, and through it, police established that John Hartman was beaten to death in an assault that lasted the length of a song. 1:30 to 1:35am

This information changed things. All of a sudden, it was crucial to know about time, to the minute. Naturally, these investigators returned to their notes, the others they had interviewed, to verify that the four in custody had no strong alibis during those critical five minutes. But what they found, probably much to their surprise, was that all claimed to have been elsewhere at 1:30am. And initial interviews with the witnesses who had seen them appeared to confirm that claim.

So, they returned. More interviews, more people. People who would continue, by and large, to tell a very simple truth. Only this time they would be treated as criminals. As revolutionaries, threatening the powers that be. Because, when the police heard the truth, a time of deceit had already begun. These small truths were cracks in the theory, threatening to break apart the entire story.

In the days to follow we will provide details of the police interviews that came in the early days of the investigation, and letters from some of those who were interviewed, who have graciously and bravely agreed to tell their stories again.