Detective defends interrogation tactics in Fairbanks 4 case

A police detective who investigated the John Hartman murder case took the stand at the  “Fairbanks Four” exoneration hearing.

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Retired officer Aaron Ring defended how police identified and gathered evidence that lead to the charging and conviction of George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent for the deadly beating of Hartman on a downtown street in the early morning hours of Oct. 11, 1997.

Detective Aaron Ring was a central player in identifying the Fairbanks Four as suspects within a day of the Hartman attack. Ring pointed to questioning of Eugene Vent and an early admission by the teen.

“I was talking about the assault at 9th and Barnett and that this person had been in a fight and was injured. And I wanted to know what the person had been hit with and he said all they had was their feet, and I hadn’t mentioned kicking or anything,” Ring said.

Ring defended interview and interrogation techniques, like providing the suspects information, including fake evidence.

“Sometimes you have to give them information to get information back. I think Eugene Vent called it a negotiation in our first interview,” Ring said.

That’s drawn criticism for possibly coaxing false confessions from Vent and Geoge Frese, who had been drinking heavily and complained of blackouts. Under cross examination Fairbanks Four attorney Jahna Lindemuth pressed him on the issue.

Lindemuth: “Isn’t it your experience that you get less-reliable information from somebody who is drunk?”

Ring: “That depends. Sometimes, someone who’s lying to you and they’re sober is a better liar.”

State attorney Ali Rahoi asked Ring how he leveraged Frese to confess.

Ring: “I told him I had information. I was gonna go find Marvin Roberts, that maybe he’d been driving them around that night, and I was gonna go talk to Marvin – he had a car that matched the description.”

Rahoi: “OK. And did that prompt Mr. Frese to volunteer anything?”

Ring: “The very next words out of his mouth.”

Rahoi: “And what were those? Do you recall?”

Ring: “I just kicked him a couple of times.”

Rahoi also asked Ring about how officers drew incriminating information from Kevin Pease, by picking up a pair of shoes at his house.

Ring: “Lieutenant Ray Miller said that, ‘You should check those.’”

Rahoi: “And what was Mr. Pease reaction?”

Ring: “Those shoes don’t have blood on them.”

Rahoi: “So, what was your reaction to that statement?”

Ring: “Why would be make that statement?”

Aaron Ring returns to the stand this morning.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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