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State begins review of Hartman murder case convictions

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Posted: Thursday, October 31, 2013 6:37 pm | Updated: 6:57 pm, Fri Nov 1, 2013.

FAIRBANKS—An assistant state attorney general has begun the official review of the 1997 killing of John Hartman, whose death led to the murder convictions of four Fairbanks men who argue that new information proves their innocence.

Two investigators from the Alaska Department of Public Safety are working with Assistant Attorney General Adrienne Bachman, who is a prosecutor with the state Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals and a former Anchorage District Attorney. The investigators set up shop in a conference room for two days this week at the Fairbanks Police Department headquarters on Cushman Street.

Bachman said by e-mail Thursday that she made contact with many agencies during her two-day visit. Her review will take time, she said.

"The review will take many months, as I was not the original prosecutor and must review everything that has previously happened and then address the new allegations," she said.

"The Department of Law is committed to thoroughly and thoughtfully investigating the allegations in this most recent petition for post-conviction relief."

The department is reviewing the case against four men — Marvin Roberts, Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease and George Frese, who have come to be known as the Fairbanks Four — who were convicted and remain in jail for Hartman's killing. The four men were convicted in trials in Anchorage in 1999 and have been serving lengthy prison terms. Pease was sentenced to 79 years in prison, Frese to 77 years, Vent to 38 years, and Roberts to 33 years.

Hartman was 15-years-old when he was found beaten with mortal injuries on a downtown Fairbanks street corner. The case has become a rallying call for Alaska Native groups in the Interior who have argued racial prejudice led the defendants to be falsely convicted.

The Department of Law ordered an independent review this fall after supporters of the four defendants filed information to challenge the convictions. The information, presented by the Alaska Innocence Project, includes a handwritten statement by William Z. Holmes, who admitted playing a role in the killing of Hartman. Holmes is in a California prison serving a double life sentence for another, unrelated killing.

The Fairbanks Police Department isn't directly involved in the state's investigation, but Fairbanks Police Chief Laren Zager said he provided a locked room for the investigators to work in.

The investigators reviewed old tapes and spoke with Lt. Jim Geier, an officer who investigated the Hartman case back in 1997 and now leads the Fairbanks police investigations unit, Zager said.

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.

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