TRIAL OF EUGENE VENT
By Casey Grove
Vent's trial began in July 1999 with Calvin Moses, the passerby who discovered
Nicely dressed in a fresh white shirt, Vent showed no emotion as Moses
described finding the battered teenager. Vent faced eight charges that
involved the Oct.
11 assaults on Hartman and two other people within a three and a half hour
Pile of Charges
In addition to charges related to Hartman’s murder, Vent faced allegations
that he had pointed a gun at motel clerk Michael Baca and had also robbed and
assaulted a wedding guest, Franklin Dayton, that same night outside a wedding
During his opening statement, Vent’s attorney, Bill Murphree, told
the jury of 10 women and two men that the only witness to the assault on
was too drunk and could not know what he had seen. He said that his client
had also been very drunk that night and into the next morning, when police
“Evidence will show Eugene Vent was drunk, so he made some halfway admissions,” Murphree
said in court.
100 Proof and 100 Yards
An acquaintance of the four accused men, Arlo Olson, testified that from a
spot more than 100 yards away from the wedding reception, he saw Vent and the
three others assaulting Franklin Dayton. (Others later gauged the distance
between the two locations at between 150 and 175 yards.) Olson said he was
absolutely sure of their identities despite being “half shot” after
drinking all night, even finishing off the evening with 100 proof Wild Turkey.
Defense witness Robert Shomer, a psychologist from Los Angeles specializing
in suspect identification, argued that positive identifications are very difficult,
especially in the dark of night.
The court rejected another expert witness called by the defense because
not meet court standards.” Criminologist Richard Leo, an expert on eyewitness
perception and recollection, was not allowed to testify. The expectation had
been that he would explain how Vent’s statements could mean many things
under the circumstances of the interview.
Two expert witnesses, state deputy medical examiner Dr. Franc Fallico and
sexual assault nurse examiner Diane Hall, described what they concluded
Murphree suggested that Hartman’s pants, which were around his knees
when his battered body was found, had been large enough to slip down.
After hearing medical examiner Fallico repeatedly mention
the trial of George Frese, who had already been convicted, Murphree tried
a judge to declare a mistrial on the basis that he had unfairly prejudiced
Superior Court Judge Ben Esch, deciding that Fallico’s
statement would not have significantly affected the jury, denied the
request. He reminded Fallico again not to mention the previous trial.
Grilling the Investigator
The defense also challenged the testimony of Fairbanks Police Detective Aaron
Ring, keeping him on the stand for almost an entire day. Attacking Ring’s
testimony, Murphree said that the detective had made things up to obtain incriminating
statements from Vent, who had been extremely tired and still drunk.
“It’s a technique that police officers use all over the country,” Ring
said in court. He said that Vent had been difficult to interview, denying any
involvement, but eventually admitting to getting in a fight with someone. Ring
said he found two things suspicious about the interview: One was that when he
told Vent that he had stepped in blood (which was not true), Vent allegedly looked
down at his shoe. The second was that Vent later described Hartman’s hairstyle:
shaved short on the sides and kept long on top.
Vent allegedly told Ring: “I don’t know why we did it. It just
happened. We were just being stupid.”
Vent took the stand and told jurors he had lied in his confession to police. “I
was just making it up,” he told the jury. “I wish you understood
how I was feeling. I just wanted to get it over with.”
Vent’s mother testified that she did not know where her son was the night
of Oct. 11, 1997, even though she was shown a transcript of an interview with
police in which she said that she thought he had gone riding around with Marvin
Roberts. In court, though, she repeated, “I don’t remember.”
During closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Jeff O’Bryant hauled
a mannequin into the courtroom, “kicking it with loud thumps,” reported
the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
By the end of July, a jury deliberating for two days found Vent guilty on all
of the counts against him, including second-degree murder and first-degree
sexual assault. Three months later he would be sentenced to serve 38 years.
Based in part on Fairbanks Daily News-Miner coverage of the Hartman
case as it unfolded.
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