Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

After 18 Years in Jail, Alaska's Fairbanks Four Are Free but Not Quite Clear

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

After 18 Years in Jail, Alaska's Fairbanks Four Are Free but Not Quite Clear

Article excerpt

After spending nearly two decades in an Alaska prison, all four men known as the Fairbanks Four have been freed.

The men, three Alaska Natives and an American Indian, have spent 18 years in prison for the 1997 murder of Fairbanks teenager John Hartman. They have maintained their innocence in the crime; Alaska Native leaders have said the convictions were racially motivated.

One of the four men, Marvin Roberts, was released on parole earlier this year; the other three, George Frese, Kevin Pease, and Eugene Vent, had remained in prison since their arrests in 1997. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported that they were freed Thursday evening.

The negotiated settlement outlined by Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle provided that the state of Alaska was obligated to dismiss its charges against the Fairbanks Four. The men were allowed to be released under the condition that they withdraw their claim of prosecutorial misconduct and not sue either Fairbanks or the state of Alaska.

On his official Twitter feed, Alaska Governor Bill Walker said that he was pleased with the outcome.

I hope this settlement helps begin the healing process & provides some measure of justice and closure for Eugene, Kevin, George and Marvin.-- Governor Bill Walker (@AkGovBillWalker) December 18, 2015

Cheers erupted in the small courtroom after the hearing ended, and the News-Miner reported that the men then attended a celebration at the local David Salmon Tribal Hall.

"It was what we were looking [for] from the very start. The convictions are done away with. They have no convictions and they're free. It's what we were looking for," Bill Oberly, chief executive officer of the Alaska Innocence Project, told the News-Miner in an interview after the hearing.

The Alaska Innocence Project had long advocated for the four men, forming a case based on the recollections of a Fairbanks man who is now in a California prison on murder charges. They maintain that the recollections of William Holmes Sr., who was a senior at Lathrop High School in Fairbanks in 1997, were not clear enough to correctly identify the Fairbanks Four as the perpetrators of the crime. …

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