First member of Fairbanks Four testifies in court, says confession was coerced

Fairbanks Four Banner at AFN 2015
A Fairbanks Four banner at the Alaska Federation of Natives Conference, Oct. 15, 2015. (Photo by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)

The first of four Fairbanks men seeking exoneration from convictions for a 1997 murder took the stand at an ongoing evidentiary hearing Thursday.

George Frese testified that he drank excessively the night 15-year-old John Hartman was found fatally beaten on a downtown street. Frese said alcohol-induced blackouts obliterated his memory of much of the October evening and early morning, and that during subsequent hours of police questioning, he caved to accusations that he, Marvin Roberts, Kevin Pease, and Eugene Vent must have attacked Hartman.

“I was just tired of being there. I kept telling them that ‘I don’t remember,’ that ‘I don’t know,’ and everything. And I just tried to minimize my involvement in whatever they were throwing at me. They’re telling me that Eugene puts me there, that Kevin started it, that I was there, that I must’ve kicked him, you know. So I just agreed to that. And they asked me about Marvin a couple times after that and I’m saying, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know,’ and they say, ‘Marvin was driving?’ and I say, ‘Yeah, sure … you know, whatever. Whatever you want.’”

Frese, who later recanted his confession, said he does not know how he sustained a foot injury the night Hartman was kicked to death. Under questioning from state attorney Adrienne Bachman, Frese admitted that his heavy drinking sometimes led to fights.

“Did you always fight with friends, or did you sometimes fight with strangers?” Bachman asked.

“Uh, I’ve never fought strangers. No. I never went out preying on random people. Ever,” Frese replied.

Frese was overcome by emotion at one point during his testimony, yelling that police had incessantly accused him of something he did not do. The breakdown triggered Judge Paul Lyle to call a brief recess.

When the hearing resumed, Fairbanks Four supporters stood in solidarity with hands raised, holding four fingers in the air. Judge Lyle admonished the gallery to refrain from protests in the courtroom. Frese continued on the stand Friday. A second member of the Fairbanks Four, Kevin Pease, was scheduled to testify, too.

Jason Wallace will testify at the Fairbanks Four hearing later in the month. Wallace is a former Fairbanks resident serving life in prison for an unrelated murder, who in 2003 confidential comments to a public defenders agency employee, implicated himself and a group of others , not the Fairbanks Four in the Hartman attack.

During discussion prior to Thursday’s testimony, Assistant Attorney General Adrienne Bachman confirmed that an agreement has been reached that will allow Wallace to testify as a state witness live in court.


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