Chairs grew scarce in the Morris Thompson Cultural Center as supporters gathered for a benefit concert for four men incarcerated for the 1997 murder of John Hartman.
“I’m surprised how many people came,” said Hazel Roberts, mother of one of the convicted men. Roberts estimated the benefit raised around $12,500.
The proceeds of the benefit will go in part to the Alaska Innocence Project, an Alaska-based non-profit that works on cases of Alaskans they believe to be wrongly accused. The rest of the money raised go toward a reward fund for anyone who comes forth with information shedding new light on the murder of a John Hartman, a Fairbanks teen murdered on a downtown street more than a decade ago. The Alaska Innocence Project is currently working on behalf of Marvin Roberts and George Frese, two of the four convicted of fatally beating Hartman in a series of high-profile trials back in the late 1990s.
Roberts, Frese, Eugene Vent and Kevin Pease, ranged in age from 17 to 21 at the time of their arrest in 1997. All four are serving long prison sentences for the murder, which they insist they did not commit.
“There’s a blatant miscarriage of justice,” said Tanana Chiefs Conference President Jerry Isaac, in regards to the case.
As he sees it, the convictions were based on questionable evidence, crafted together by the prosecution, “like sawing boards to make them fit.”
Bill Oberly, executive director of the Alaska Innocence Project, said this case had the full support of his organization. “I know from the bottom of my heart that these boys are innocent, and we’re not going to stop working until we can prove it.” Evidence in the case, “has all the characteristics of a wrongful conviction,” according to Oberly, listing jail-house snitches’ testimony and false confessions. He was also concerned there was an over-reach of police power in the case. Oberly asked people to “focus on the greater picture.” As he put it, “wrongful conviction of Native Alaskans is a real curse to this state.”
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