Forensic psychologist doubtful of witness testimony at FBX 4 hearing

A perception and memory expert took the stand at the Fairbanks Four hearing on Tuesday.

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University of Washington psychology professor Jeffrey Loftus’s work focuses on our ability to recognize others at distance and under various conditions, including darkness.

Loftus testified at the original John Hartman murder trails in 1999, at which the Fairbanks Four: George Frese, Marvin Roberts, Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent were convicted of fatally beating the teen. Loftus was back in court as the four seek exoneration.

Dr. Jeffrey Loftus’s testimony is specific to the claim of Fairbanks resident Arlo Olsen, who said he saw the Fairbanks Four assault another man shortly before the October 1997 Hartman attack. The claim was pivotal in the men’s convictions.

Loftus told the court that Olsen’s alleged long distance identification of the Fairbanks Four mugging Frank Dayton near the Eagle’s Hall inspired him to conduct research after the trails.

“To calibrate the amount of blurring that is associated with the amount of distance,” Loftus said.

Loftus referred to a resulting formula and computer program that demonstrate Olsen’s alleged identification of the four men at a distance of 550 feet is suspect.

“Assuming that a person is 550 feet away, you end up with a blurred image that I think everybody would agree, would be impossible to recognize,” he said.”

Loftus says such an identification is even more unlikely under conditions of Olsen’s alleged sighting, including darkness and alcohol impairment.

State attorney Bob Linton contested the science relied on by Loftus, alleging there are other factors that could have aided Olsen’s ID of the suspects.

Linton: “He actually talked to them before he observed an attack on Frankie Dayton?”

Loftus: “Yes.”
Linton: “And he knew two of them – Mr. Vent and Mr. Frese – from beforehand?”
Loftus: “Yes.”

Arlo Olsen testified last week that he was heavily coached by police about his story of what happened the night of the assaults on Dayton and Hartman.

Olsen is expected to return to the stand.

Judge Paul Lyle is hearing all case evidence and determining what to consider in ruling on the Fairbanks Four exoneration request.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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