Fairbanks Four indictments and convictions thrown out, men walk free

Update|7:30 p.m.

Three of the Fairbanks Four were released Thursday evening. While one of the men, Marvin Roberts, had been released in June on parole, the other three men were still behind bars 18 years after being convicted for murder of 15-year-old John Hartman. The men say they didn’t commit the crime. George Frese, Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent and Roberts were celebrated at the Chief David Salmon Tribal Hall in Fairbanks.

Head over to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner for more on this story.
-Jennifer Canfield

Update|5:40 p.m.

The brother of a Fairbanks teenager killed in 1997 says he’s flabbergasted at the deal reached Thursday that throws out the convictions of four indigenous men deemed responsible for the beating death.

Chris Kelly tells The Associated Press that he can’t believe the deal was made between prosecutors and the men. Kelly says it feels like his family has been “completely wronged” by the agreement.

“Only guilty people would take that deal,” Kelly said. He also voiced his objections at Thursday’s hearing.

The four men have long maintained their innocence. They were seeking to have their convictions overturned in civil court when the state made a surprise offer to free them. In exchange, the men can’t sue various government entities, among other provisions.

Many Alaska Natives believe the convictions of the four men were racially based.
-Associated Press

Update|5:30 p.m.

“Justice prevails!”

Those were the words from Alaska’s senior U.S. senator after the so-called Fairbanks Four were released on Thursday.

The four men were convicted of beating a Fairbanks teenager to death in 1997, but many called their convictions a rush to judgment based on their race. Three of the men convicted are Alaska Natives and the other is an American Indian.

In a statement, Sen. Lisa Murkowski praised the lawyers that took up their case, including the Alaska Innocence Project.

Murkowski, a Republican, had previously asked the state of Alaska to examine whether the convictions were just. She also asked the U.S. Department of Justice to determine if there were any civil rights violations in the case.
-Associated Press

Update|5:15 p.m.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is hailing the agreement that will release the so-called Fairbanks Four, four indigenous men who have been imprisoned since their convictions in 1997 for the beating death of a Fairbanks teenager.

The four have long maintained their innocence. They were seeking to have their convictions overturned in civil court when the state made a surprise offer to free them. In exchange, the men can’t sue various government entities, among other provisions. A state judge approved the deal Thursday, throwing out the men’s murder convictions.

Some in the Alaska Native community had considered the convictions of the four men as racially based, and there had been pressure on Walker to pardon the men.

In a statement Thursday, Walker says he’s pleased that a mutually acceptable agreement could be reached among all parties.

Walker says he hopes this beings the healing process and provides “some measure of justice and closure” for the four men.
-Associated Press

Original story published at 5:03 p.m.

Gov. Bill Walker addresses the 49th annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage. The AFN called on Walker to free the Fairbanks Four. (Photo by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)

Gov. Bill Walker addresses the 49th annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage. The AFN called on Walker to free the Fairbanks Four. (Photo by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)

This is a developing story. Please check back later for details. 

A Fairbanks judge has dismissed the indictments and convictions of four men who have served 18 years in jail for a murder they say they did not commit.

According to Fairbanks reporters, more than 150 people gathered outside a courtroom on the fifth floor of the Rabinowitz courthouse. Some had been there since 9 a.m. waiting to hear if the men would be released in time for Christmas. More than 50  people were let into the courtroom around 4:15 p.m.

Indictments and convictions against George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent were thrown out as a result of a deal between the men and state prosecutors.

Last week prosecutors offered to let the Fairbanks Four go free as long as it could maintain that the men were guilty and that they’d no longer claim innocence. The men have maintained their innocence for the 18 years they were in prison and with today’s deal they may continue to do so.
-Jennifer Canfield

 

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