TRIAL OF KEVIN PEASE AND
By Casey Grove
same day that Eugene Vent was found guilty, opening arguments began in
the final trial, that of Marvin Roberts and Kevin Pease. Roberts’ attorney,
Dick Madson, told the Alaska Superior Court jury that his client was
not present during the fatal beating of John Hartman. It was an attempt
to distance his client from Vent, who had just been convicted
the day before, and George Frese, who had been convicted a few months
“We will show there is no evidence to connect [Roberts'] car or Roberts
to either of these two incidents,” Madson said. He also told the jury
that the state must prove that Roberts was physically present and participated
Pease’s defense attorney, Lori Bodwell, would make
her opening arguments later.
State prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant showed the jurors large photographs of
“I’d like you to meet John Hartman, a 15-year-old boy,” O’Bryant
said. “He was a son, a brother. He liked to play football.”
O’Bryant described how witnesses had heard cries of “Help me, help
me,” early the morning of Oct. 11 and “sounds of flesh, smashing
flesh,” while Hartman was beaten and kicked. O’Bryant also showed
the jury of 11 men and three women photographs of the bruised bodies of Hartman
and Franklin Dayton, a man who had also been assaulted in the early morning
of Oct. 11.
“A regular mood”
A former girlfriend of Kevin Pease testified that Pease was supposed
to be with her the night of the murder but that he was not. Jessica R. Lundeen
said that when she saw Pease about 14 hours after Hartman was found, he was
hanging out at home.
“He was in a regular mood, like any other day,” she said in court.
He got a phone call, and she said that was when she learned her boyfriend
was a suspect in the attack. She testified that she was the one who suggested
that Pease lie to police and use her as an alibi, “just to keep him safe,” she
said. She told the police the truth the next day, saying that he had in fact
not been with her.
A Body Examined
Deputy state medical examiner Franc G. Fallico, who conducted the autopsy
on Hartman in Anchorage, testified that the teenager died of “blunt force
trauma to the head, through blows that caused bleeding, swelling and compression
of the brain.”
Fallico said there were many blows inflicted on Hartman. He also noted that
before the autopsy was conducted, doctors had removed Hartman’s kidneys
and liver to be donated to waiting patients.
There was a great deal of questioning from both sides about the possible boot
prints left on Hartman’s face, but Fallico could only make a vague connection
between the boots of already-convicted George Frese and the defendants in this
Madson and Bodwell moved to end the trial on grounds of insufficient
“The only thing the state has at this point is speculation and basic conjecture,” said
Lori Bodwell. Dick Madson argued that a “reasonable jury could
not reach a verdict beyond a reasonable doubt on the basis of the state’s
Assistant District Attorney O’Bryant disagreed. He
said there was plenty of evidence.
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Benjamin Esch said he wanted to wait on the
motion until hearing the rest of the state’s case.
The prosecution brought forth a series of witnesses who had been drinking on
the night of the crime and were vague about what time they had seen the two
However, Athena Sweetsir, 20, testified in favor of defendant Marvin Roberts,
claiming that she was dancing with Roberts at a wedding reception about the
time the attack
Roberts danced with her for about an hour, she said, and left the party about
20 minutes before she did, between 2:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. She remembered looking
at her watch several times and said that she had at most two mixed drinks.
The prosecutor was interested in a statement that Sweetsir allegedly made to
the police regarding the trial’s other defendant, Kevin Pease. O’Bryant
asked her if she remembered telling them that Pease said he had beat up a kid.
“I don’t know why I said that or where it came from,” she replied.
Shara David, 17, said Roberts gave her a short ride from the wedding
reception to the home of another friend. O’Bryant pressed her on the notion that
there had been a scheme between some of those at the party to make up an alibi.
David said no.
According to several other youths, Vent and Pease were with them at a party
earlier, playing cards and drinking. Sixteen-year-old Shawna Goebel was with
Shara David and also testified that they never collaborated on an alibi.
Four witnesses for the defense who had been at a wedding reception at Eagles
Hall also testified about Marvin Roberts’ whereabouts that night. Michelle
Andon, 22, remembered seeing Roberts there around midnight and later danced
with him at about 1:30 a.m. She also remembered seeing him talking to another
woman when she left around 2 a.m.
Eileen Newman Moore, 30, said that Marvin had been at the reception at 11 p.m.,
when she arrived. She remembered seeing him at two critical points in the evening,
once at 1 a.m. when she left to use the telephone, and later when she came
back from the restroom at 1:30 a.m. That was right around the time of the fatal
assault on Hartman, when Melanie Durham heard him across town being beaten.
An acquaintance of Frese and Vent, Arlo Olson, said that from the front
steps of Eagles Hall he saw Roberts, Pease, Vent and Frese assaulting reception
guest Franklin Dayton just before Hartman’s assault [see Jurors
Police had connected the two incidents, alleging that the four had been on
a spree of
Other potential alibi witnesses, who could have provided exculpatory evidence
during the indictment process said that police investigators
turned them away and even accused them of lying. Carry Edwin Orrison, Garth
Henry related similar accounts to the police of seeing Marvin Roberts at the
reception throughout the night, but investigators interviewed Henry for two
hours, he said, until he asked for a lawyer and they let him go.
Attacking the State’s Case
Geoffrey Loftus, an expert in human perception and memory with the Department
of Psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle, told the jury that
Arlo Olson's view of Franklin Dayton’s assault was too far away
to accurately identify the defendants, and that alcohol would have decreased
ability even further.
“You simply wouldn’t be able to distinguish anything about a person
550 feet away,” he said in court. Though Olson had estimated
the distance between the two locations at about 100 yards, it was later determined
been between 150 and 180 yards.
Prosecuting attorney Jeff O’Bryant, who noted that Loftus made a sizable
income testifying as a defense witness, challenged the testimony.
William J. Brady, a forensic pathologist testifying for
the defense, said that he was not convinced that Hartman
had been sexually assaulted.
O’Bryant, pushing for the sexual assault conviction,
said that even though the deputy state medical examiner
and William Brady could not confirm a sexual
assault, a nurse at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital did find evidence that lead
her to believe a sexual assault had occurred.
“The state’s contention was rectal bruises, internal and external,
were from sexual assault,” O’Bryant said in court.
witness John Thornton testified that boots taken from already-convicted George
Frese had not been used in the assault. The professor of forensic
science at the University of California at Berkeley said that medical examiner
Fallico was wrong in relying on hospital photographs to make any claims
about boot prints on Hartman’s face.
Thornton also was unable to match tire marks,
photographed at the crime scene, to the tires on Marvin Roberts’ car.
Under questioning by the prosecutor, Thornton cited the depth of the
boot tread and said, “I eventually came to the conclusion that
we are dealing with a different tread.”
A Teary-Eyed Friend
Hartman’s best friend, Trent Mueller, testified about
a seizure that John had hours before the fatal assault.
“I think he was banging his head on the door,” Mueller said.
Mueller related details about Hartman’s last hours, during which
Hartman and Chris Stone were helping their friend E.J. Stevens take care
Stone was put on the stand to testify about the
final hours that Hartman was conscious [see Last
Day]. After helping with the babysitting, taking some antidepressant
pills and taking a taxi downtown with his friends [see Wild
Night], Stone and Hartman parted ways, he said.
The defense called a friend of Kevin Pease, Joseph Shank
of Fairbanks, who testified that Pease had been with him
during the early hours of
Oct. 11. He
said that he remembered checking the time as he was giving some underage
drinkers a ride right around the time of Hartman’s beating.
During closing arguments, the defense asked the jury to look at the facts
and ignore any speculation in the murder trial.
Dick Madson, said that he thought Chris Stone was lying about what happened
to Hartman. Pease’s attorney, Lori Bodwell,
also pointed to Stone, saying that concerns about a similar beating Stone
had received only months earlier should have been investigated by the Fairbanks
Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant said that there was plenty of evidence
to convict Marvin Roberts and Kevin Pease. He also questioned
the credibility of
the various alibi witnesses called by the defense.
Nineteen-year-old Marvin Roberts and 18-year-old Kevin Pease were convicted
of second-degree murder almost two years after Hartman’s death. A jury
of 10 men and two women also found them guilty of robbing Hartman and assaulting
Franklin Dayton. The two were acquitted on sexual assault charges.
Dick Madson was incredulous. The Fairbanks attorney who represented
Marvin Roberts told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, “I quit. I’m
not going to do this anymore." He is now retired except for his ongoing
work on the Roberts case.
About three years after Pease was sentenced to serve 64 years and Marvin
to 33, University of Alaska Fairbanks investigative-reporting students
that jurors had conducted an unauthorized out-of-court experiment. On its
own initiative, the entire jury left the Anchorage courtroom to see if
recognize someone from the same distance that Olson said he had recognized
the accused men. The experiment was conducted without the permission of the
presiding judge, on a sunny summer day. The crime took place on a
In August 2004, Kevin Pease won a retrial as a result of
the jury experiment, but his co-defendant Marvin Roberts has so far been
No date has been set for Pease's retrial. Roberts' attorney,
Dick Madson, is still fighting for his only client’s freedom.
Based in part on Fairbanks Daily News-Miner coverage of the Hartman
case as it unfolded.
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