FAIRBANKS—Gov. Sean Parnell said Thursday that the Alaska Department of Law is reviewing the new revelations filed Wednesday regarding the 1997 murder of John Hartman.
“It’s pretty intense,” Parnell said while on a visit to University of Alaska Fairbanks. “It’s a pretty thick file.”
The case involved the conviction of four men — three of them Alaska Native — for the murder of 15-year-old Fairbanks resident John Hartman. Popularly referred to as the Fairbanks Four case, it has been closely watched in the community over the last 16 years.
Bill Oberly, a lawyer for the Alaska Innocence Project, filed affidavits Wednesday afternoon with information that Oberly said established the innocence of the four men — Marvin Roberts, George Frese, Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent.
Parnell said his office has received comments on the case in the last 24 hours from members of the Alaska Native community.
“We have had some comment, but at this point our Department of Law is reviewing the filing and determining what steps need to be taken to review the information,” Parnell said.
Department of Law Criminal Division Director John Skidmore said Thursday afternoon that the state is reviewing Oberly’s petitions for post-conviction relief. It’s too early to say how it will impact the state’s treatment of the case, Skidmore said, but he repeated language used in a news release Wednesday that “convictions in three separate trials provides compelling evidence indicating the correct individuals were held accountable.”
The four defendants were convicted of killing Hartman in three separate Anchorage trials.
Usually with such a filing the state would have 45 days to respond, Skidmore said. However, it took more than a year for Oberly to put his materials together, so prosecutors may ask for an extension.
It’s not unusual for defendants to present alternative suspects, Skidmore said.
Alternative suspects typically come up during trial. The Hartman case is unusual, he said, because the “some-other-dude-did-it defense is being presented more than a decade later.”
Skidmore said it’s too early to know if the District Attorney, which is under the Department of Law, will ask the Fairbanks Police Department to begin investigating the alternative suspects.
“If there is additional investigation needed, we will make the appropriate requests (to the police),” he said.
Fairbanks Police Chief Laren Zager said Thursday afternoon that his office had still not received any direction from the District Attorney’s Office.
“I was kind of wondering myself when we might get some feedback from the courts and the D.A.’s (District Attorney) office, but as we speak right now, not so much as a rumor,” Zager said.
Zager said Wednesday, after Oberly’s news conference, that police would re-examine the case if asked to by the district attorney’s office.
While supporters of the four men hope the new information will be enough to reopen the case, another option could be a pardon by Parnell. A pardon does not necessarily imply innocence, but it could be given for such a reason. Parnell, himself a lawyer, said Thursday it is too early in the process to discuss the possibility of such an action.
“To my knowledge, no request has been made for clemency, but in this case it is at the stage where they really have to review the new information and see,” Parnell said. “There are a lot of steps before that.”
Parnell was in town Thursday to give a speech on state economics at UAF.
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools. Staff writer Sam Friedman contributed to this report.