Freed after 18 years: The Fairbanks Four

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Justice prevails': Leaders, family react to Fairbanks Four release.

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — A judge in Alaska approved terms of a settlement Thursday that throws out the longstanding convictions of four indigenous men in the 1997 beating death of a teenager in Fairbanks.George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent are free men today, after 18 years in custody for a crime they and another friend paroled earlier didn’t commit.FAIRBANKS – Reactions varied among supporters of the so-called Fairbanks Four gathered outside the courtroom when they heard the three still in custody would soon be free.

The four men, who’ve long fought their conviction for the 1997 killing of Fairbanks teenager John Hartman had charges dropped under a deal that’s similar but not identical to one proposed last week. Lyle ordered the men, known as the Fairbanks Four, released from state custody December 17, after accepting an agreement negotiated by attorneys for the Four and the state. By the time the courtroom doors opened and people began streaming out, though, everyone on the fifth floor of the Rabinowitz Courthouse was swept up into an atmosphere of celebration. Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle, who presided over a five-week hearing in the case this fall, explained the terms of the deal in a 20-minute public hearing at the end of the day. There’s a lot of time to discuss a little bit later.” “We definitely believe there still needs to be accountability on all sides of this, and there still needs to be justice for the Hartman family,” Joseph said.

Alaska Innocence Project attorney Bill Oberly, who represented two of the men, said the result of Thursday’s hearing has been the goal of their work all along. “It’s about damn time … they just need to start living their life,” Leach said. “As he said, ‘I’m not getting any younger.’ It’s 18 years of your growing up in jail. Alaska Native leaders have long advocated for their release, saying the convictions were racially motivated and emblematic of how Alaska Natives have been treated by the justice system. 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. After the hearing, Kelly told The Associated Press he was flabbergasted at the outcome, saying only guilty people would have accepted such an agreement.

The attorneys didn’t speak at the hearing before Lyle announced the settlement, however the judge asked to hear from a representative of the murder victim. He had been considering pardons for the men. “I hope this settlement helps to begin the healing process, and provides some measure of justice and closure for Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease, George Frese and Marvin Roberts as they return home to their families,” Walker said. “Justice prevails!” U.S. In an earlier interview, April Monroe, a blogger and Fairbanks Four advocate, said of the agreement between the state and the four, “There are people who think it’s unfair, and it is,” she said. But from the men’s standpoint, a court decision on their petition to have their convictions overturned would likely be followed by appeals, which could mean more time in the system, Monroe said.

At this point, “It’s just a matter of getting home,” Monroe said. “They could stay in and demand compensation” after being exonerated. “But they’ve already missed 17 Christmases; how much are you going to sell that 18th Christmas for? The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports ( the deal calls for the release of the other three, and bars all four from suing government entities. Bill Walker, who is also in Fairbanks on Thursday, said he was waiting to see the outcome of an ongoing settlement process, which he described as “more expeditious” than his powers to grant a pardon. A judge then canceled a hearing over the proposed deal, saying it was unclear whether he had the authority to free the men without a pardon or clemency. The state would throw out their indictments and convictions and agree not to retry the four unless prosecutors find “substantial” new evidence of the men’s guilt.

He asked both sides to come together to write a joint brief due Dec. 20 explaining his authority to release the men if they withdrew their claims of innocence while the state maintained the position their convictions were valid.

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