TRIAL OF GEORGE FRESE
By Casey Grove
jurors for the Frese trial were being selected in Fairbanks, Judge Niesje
Steinkruger decided that the trial should be moved from Fairbanks to
Anchorage because publicity might influence jurors.
It was the first time that a case had been moved to Anchorage in 25 years.
The trial against George Frese began in Feb. 1999 in Anchorage. Jury
selection lasted only two days, a contrast with the false start in Fairbanks,
selection took four days and revealed that about half of the potential jurors
had significant prior knowledge of the case.
An Uncertain Beginning
State prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant began with an explanation of the seven
counts against Frese that included the murder, sexual assault and robbery of
John Hartman, and the assault and robbery of Franklin Dayton. O’Bryant
described how the prosecution’s case would reconstruct the night through
various accounts of witnesses.
“No physical evidence actually ties any of the defendants
to the crimes,” observed reporter Larry Campbell,
who helped cover the trial from Anchorage for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Campbell also credited Arlo Olson, an acquaintance of the defendants
who claimed to have seen them assault Dayton, with some of the most powerful
testimony early in the trial.
Linking Two Crimes
Olson described his evening of celebration at a wedding reception at the Eagles
Hall, a meeting place for the Fraternal Order of Eagles. It was from the
front steps—a distance he estimated at about 100 yards, that he said
he saw Dayton getting kicked and punched by the group of four that included
Frese. (Others later gauged the distance between the two locations at 150
to 175 yards.)
“They said, ‘Gimme your money, you bitch,’ and then got in
the car,” Olson said in court. Later, in front of a bar on Second Avenue,
Olson heard Frese complaining about a foot he had hurt in a fight.
During cross-examination by the defense, Olson admitted to having had quite
a bit to drink that night. He said he had smoked marijuana that evening
and couldn’t remember how many drinks he had.
Some parts of his testimony were in conflict with the testimony of Franklin
Dayton himself. Olson testified that he saw the victim on his back during the
assault, but Dayton said that he couldn’t see the attackers’ faces
because he was held on his stomach during the robbery.
A women’s shelter resident, Melanie Durham, heard the fatal assault on
Hartman. Durham had been smoking on the roof of a nearby women’s shelter
when she heard the sounds of a beating and someone calling out for help. Another
voice that she said sounded like an older Alaska Native male spoke angrily.
Durham and a shelter attendant walked to the door to listen for more sounds,
but it was quiet and they returned inside. When she saw the police investigation
at the street corner, she told them what she had heard.
At the Hospital
Further testimony revealed how police were led to George Frese.
At the emergency room, medical examiner Diane Hall noticed that Hartman had
bruising and tears indicating anal assault. She also saw bruises on Hartman’s
face that she thought looked like boot tread, and by coincidence, she was also
the nurses who tended to George Frese’s hurt foot.
Hall told Detective Aaron Ring she was suspicious there might be a connection
between Hartman’s assault and Frese’s hurt foot.
“He told me he thought he broke his foot kicking someone downtown in a
fight,” said Ring in court. [see the Frese interview in Did
Lt. Dave Kendrick compared Frese’s shoe to the bruises on Hartman’s
face. Witnesses told the jury that they saw a match.
Alaska Deputy Medical Examiner Franc Fallico agreed with this comparison,
the state’s only piece of physical evidence.
Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant showed the jury an overhead
display of the boot print with different parts of the boot tread on separate
transparencies laid over a photograph of the left side of Hartman’s face
as he lay unconscious in the hospital bed.
Defense attorney Bob Downes said the left boot had been used for the comparison
at the hospital, but the right boot had been entered as evidence in the trial.
Downes asked witnesses how many boots in Fairbanks could have the same sole
John Cayton, chief criminologist of the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department
crime laboratory, disagreed with the validity of the boot-to-face comparison.
He said that the scale of the boot overlays and the photograph of the face
did not match up.
Closing the First Case
During closing arguments, prosecutor O’Bryant reminded the jury of the
incriminating statements made by Frese after being picked up the morning of
the murder. Frese asked officers what would happen to him if Hartman died. “Why
in the world would he be worried about that unless he knew what he had done?” asked
Bob Downes argued that this semi-confession was the only evidence that the
The jury found Frese guilty on five of the seven counts after a short deliberation
totaling about two days. In February of 2000, George Frese was sentenced to
serve 60 years with 20 years suspended.
Based in part on Fairbanks Daily News-Miner coverage of the Hartman
case as it unfolded.
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