The Trials

BEFORE THE TRIALS_____GEORGE FRESE_____EUGENE VENT_____PEASE/ROBERTS

 


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THE TRIAL OF KEVIN PEASE
AND MARVIN ROBERTS

By Casey Grove

 

The 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 earlier.

“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 in the attack.

Pease’s defense attorney, Lori Bodwell, would make her opening arguments later.

State prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant showed the jurors large photographs of the victim.

“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 trial.

Reasonable Doubts

Madson and Bodwell moved to end the trial on grounds of insufficient evidence.

“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 case.”

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.

Tactical Maneuver

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 defendants.

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 was supposed to have occurred. 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.

The Alibis

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 Erred]. Police had connected the two incidents, alleging that the four had been on a spree of random violence.

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 Edwin and Patrick Lee 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 the witness’s 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 to have 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.

Expert defense 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 Franc 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 of two young children.

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.

No Closure

During closing arguments, the defense asked the jury to look at the facts and ignore any speculation in the murder trial.

Roberts’ attorney, 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 Police Department.

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 discovered that jurors had conducted an unauthorized out-of-court experiment. On its own initiative, the entire jury left the Anchorage courtroom to see if they could 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 winter night.

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 denied. 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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