FAIRBANKS — Four men who claim they were wrongly convicted of killing a Fairbanks teenager in 1997 are seeking post-conviction relief in a civil trial that started Monday.
The so-called Fairbanks Four — George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent — were sentenced in the death 18 years ago of John Hartman. Three of those convicted are still serving time while Roberts is out on parole.
They are seeking post-conviction relief in a civil proceeding in Fairbanks Superior Court that could last a month. If successful, all four could have their convictions overturned, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
The four are represented by the Alaska Innocence Project, which is relying on the testimony of another man, a California inmate who claims he witnessed other people kill Hartman.
William Z. Holmes Sr., who was a senior at Lathrop High School in Fairbanks in 1997, said he was present when Hartman was fatally beaten by a group of four of his Lathrop classmates. He testified about his memories, and attributed some quotes to a friend over the objections of state prosecutors, who said that was hearsay.
The judge, Paul Lyle, said he would decide later whether the attributed quotes would be allowed into evidence.
Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman noted in her opening statements that this is not a trial. She said the four men already have had fair trials and appeals.
The idea of redoing the trials “offends the sensibilities that we all have about the 36 citizens who exercised their (jury) duty,” she said.
She said she plans to reinforce the validity of the trials. Bachman also said the state stands behind police work comparing a boot to a face wound and interrogations that produced confessions from Vent and Frese. Those were later recanted.
Bachman also plans to introduce new evidence from a cabdriver, who later told Alaska State Troopers he saw either “Native” or “Asian” men — including one with Pease’s distinctive ponytail hair style — near the corner where Hartman was beaten.
Supporters of the four held a rally outside the courthouse during the lunch break.
Advocate Shirley Lee addressed the crowd, responding to Bachman’s arguments.
“She wants us to assume that the juries that convicted our four young men were provided evidence beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said. “We know that that is not so. Those convictions were based on a foundation of sand that will wash away when all the truth is presented.”