- Last Updated on Friday, 01 February 2013 12:11
- Written by Extreme Alaska
Arlo Olson, the state's star witness in all three Hartman murder trials, vented about being manipulated by police and the DA in a series of jailhouse interviews stretching from November 2002 through April 2003.
“I was threatened with perjury,” he said in an interview recorded in January 2003, “and then I was threatened with going to jail and them sending the troopers out to get me.
“I didn’t want to testify,” he added. “I told them I wasn’t sure. And they kept showing me bits and pieces (of the interrogation statements). I guess to make me, you know, feel sure of what I was doing. And it did.”
Listen to a 20-minute podcast about Arlo Olson's shifting accounts of what he saw the night John Hartman died.
These interviews took place both in the visiting room at Fairbanks Correctional Center and through calls he placed to my office at UAF Journalism. I secretly recorded several of our telephone sessions, including the call with the comments above. Such recordings are lawful in Alaska since I was one of the participants.
Olson didn't see the murder. His value to the state's case came in placing all four suspects engaged in a robery, then fleeing together in what he identified as Marvin Roberts car. This supported the Fairbanks Police investigators' scenario linking Hartman's fatal beating to a "random spree of violence" by Roberts and three other high school friends.
Getaway car ID
Olson also discussed on tape how he came to identify Roberts’ blue hatchback.
“I said a beige car,” he recalled. “Then they brought me up and showed me Marvin Roberts’ car. Then it was, ‘No one else drove that car but Marvin Roberts.’ You know?’ He (Ring) kept saying that. We went through that three or four times before he decided to put it on the record and tape it.”
Police confirmed during trial that Olson identified Roberts’ blue car through viewing a single vehicle inside the station.
That amounts to a “tainted lineup” contends William Sat- terberg, a local defense attorney
with no connection to the Hart- man case. “You’re showing the guy one car in the police garage. He knows why it’s there.”
While it may not have been practical to present the witness with a group of similar vehicles, the attorney said, Olson’s iden- tification of the car would be more credible if it resulted from reviewing photos offering a comparable selection of cars.
David Wells, a nationally-renowned expert in eyewitness identification, concurs. “All tests of identification should be conducted using the lineup-type method in which there are fillers,” the professor commented by e-mail. “This is just as true of vehicles as it is with people.”
He regards the garage show- ing “highly suggestive” and hard- ly a fair test of Olson’s memory. “It is perhaps merely a test of the witness’s willingness to coop- erate with and corroborate the theory of the police.”
As recently as August 2006, Ring denied the witness ever wavered on the getaway car’s color. “Arlo Olson never stated anything about a beige car,” the detective stated in an affidavit filed opposing Vent’s ongoing bid for a new trial.
Then-prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant underscored Olson’s significance in 1999, during the third and final Hartman murder trial.
“Simply put,” he told jurors weighing murder charges against Kevin Pease and Marvin Roberts, “if Arlo didn’t see what he saw, and you throw out some of the state’s evidence, the state doesn’t have a case. No doubt about it.”
Read the full story about Olson's troubled life and staring role in the Hartman trials:
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