FAIRBANKS — Judge Paul Lyle on Wednesday granted inmate Jason Wallace roughly a month to appeal a pending decision on confidential statements in the John Hartman murder case.
The order does not address the substance of Wallace’s alleged admissions supporting his old partner’s claimed confession they were both involved in Hartman’s 1997 murder. However, the wording of Lyle’s Dec. 17 order suggests he is not impressed by Wallace’s arguments to keep under wraps whatever he allegedly said, years ago, to a public defender representing him in the unrelated killing for which he was convicted.
“The Affected Person,” his order states, referring to Wallace, “has not established entitlement to a stay under the applicable law. Indeed, the Affected Person’s motion does not even address the applicable law.”
At issue is the judge’s long-simmering decision on the admissibility of a sealed file submitted as part of the Alaska Innocence Project’s 2013 filing seeking exoneration of the so-called Fairbanks Four. George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent were convicted of killing the 15-year-old Hartman.
In January, the judge identified the thorny issues surrounding the confidential evidence as the “first log” he needed to saw. Arguments surrounding issues of attorney-client privilege spanned closed-door hearings in March and August, before culminating last month in several hours of confidential testimony involving current and former public defender agency investigators.
Lyle’s temporary stay order notes several hurdles Wallace’s attorney, Jason Gazewood, must successfully meet between now and Jan. 21.
First, Gazewood has until Monday to file an acceptable appeal with Alaska Court of Appeals. If that deadline is met, attorneys representing the four men convicted of killing of Hartman have until Jan. 5 to respond.
The appellate court, in a related order, set Jan. 16 as the date by which a decision can be expected on whether it will grant review.
Thus, unless Alaska’s appellate bench takes the case, Lyle’s temporary stay automatically expires Jan. 16.
Brian O’Donoghue, a University of Alaska Fairbanks professor and former News-Miner reporter, has been researching the Hartman case with the help of journalism students since 2001. Results of UAF’s public service investigation have been shared with all interested parties, including tribal organizations, the Alaska Innocence Project, the Fairbanks Police Department and the district attorney’s office.