By Casey Grove
arrested four suspects after John Hartman’s beaten body was
discovered on a street corner in Fairbanks on October 11, 1997:
20; Kevin Pease, 18; Marvin Roberts, 19; and Eugene Vent, 17. Officers
interviewed the four at length before arresting them. No other
suspects were sought during the course of the investigation.
The four were first arrested for attempted murder, but the charges were upgraded
to first degree murder and sexual assault after Hartman died in the hospital
at 6:37 p.m. on Oct. 12. When police found evidence that a robbery had occurred,
combined charges of first degree murder and robbery were also added.
Pleas of Innocence
All four pleaded not guilty during the arraignment hearing. They were led into
Fairbanks Superior Court linked by chain restraints secured around their waists
and connected to their handcuffed wrists. They were held at Fairbanks Correctional
Center on $1 million bail each, facing sentences of between 20 and 99 years.
The Indictment Battle
After a grand jury indicted the accused men, their defense attorneys went to
work trying to get the indictments thrown out. Lori Bodwell, representing Kevin
Pease, accused Fairbanks District Attorney Harry Davis of being one-sided when
he presented information to the grand jury to obtain the indictments.
Davis had given the impression that Eugene Vent and George Frese had confessed,
but Bodwell said that Davis failed to mention to the grand jury that Vent and
Frese were both very drunk during the questioning.
Dick Madson, calling the state’s case “extremely weak,” also
sought a dismissal for his client, Marvin Roberts, because he said
police ignored witnesses who could have provided an alibi for Roberts.
As a result of
the lack of exculpatory evidence (that which would negate an individual’s
guilt) presented at the grand jury trial, Judge Sigurd Murphy threw
out the indictments against three of the accused murderers. The indictment
against George Frese was not thrown out, but a key piece of evidence
was suppressed: his police interview.
A Controversial Confession
Frese’s attorney, Bob Downes, accused police of changing
a transcript of police questioning in an attempt to cover up a violation
of his Miranda rights. Frese, who had not yet been arrested, had arguably implicated
himself and the others during questioning that occurred after he had asked
to leave the interview. The request had come just as Fairbanks police inspector
Aaron Ring was leaving the interrogation room.
Downes said in court that police manipulated the transcripts of the interview
to appear as though Ring had left the room and could not have heard Frese asking
to go home. By federal law, once a suspect is restricted from leaving, he may
be considered in police custody and must be informed of his right to consult
After seeing the room--even inspecting the hinges on the door--Judge Murphy
suppressed all of the statements Frese had made following the detectives’ exit.
The prosecution would later appeal his decisions, but the Alaska Appeals Court
and the Alaska Supreme Court both upheld his decision to suppress the statement
The indictments against the other three suspects were reinstated by the court
Based in part on Fairbanks Daily News-Miner coverage of the Hartman
case as it unfolded.
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