Fairbanks 4 settlement: Say you’re guilty and go

Supporters of the Fairbanks Four rallied outside the state court house in Fairbanks on Friday. The protest was spurred by a proposed settlement in the long contested case of the four Native men who claim they were wrongfully convicted for the 1997 murder of John Hartman.

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The settlement proposed by attorneys representing the Fairbanks Four and the state of Alaska would free George Frese, Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent. Marvin Roberts is already out on parole.

The deal would also require the four men withdraw claims of innocence, and not pursue compensation for wrongful conviction.

Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle issued an order Thursday cancelling a scheduled Friday hearing on the agreement, questioning the legality of freeing men the state maintains are guilty, and wants the right to re-try if new information becomes available about John Hartman’s murder.

Lyle’s order does not outright reject the settlement, but gives attorneys ten days to justify or alter it, noting that the potential for clemency or pardon. Tanana Chiefs Conference justice task force chair Shirley spoke against the proposed settlement at a Friday rally for the Fairbanks Four.

Fairbanks Four Supporter, Misty Nickoli went on to challenge Gov. Bill Walker to step forward and free the men.

The current situation follows a hearing this fall on post-conviction relief petitions filed by the Fairbanks Four. The five-week proceeding heard testimony from dozens of witnesses, including a former Fairbanks man and jailed for unrelated killings, who claims a high school friend, not the Fairbanks Four, killed Hartman.

Judge Lyle has anticipated taking more than six months to review evidence before issuing a ruling in the case.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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