Arlo Olson

Arlo Olson takes the stand during an evidentiary hearing for the Fairbanks Four to try to prove their innocence Tuesday morning, October 13, 2015 at the Rabinowitz Courthouse.  

FAIRBANKS — A key witness in the 1997 “Fairbanks Four” case died Tuesday night in an apparent suicide at Fairbanks Correctional Center, according to a news release from the Alaska Department of Corrections.  

Arlo Olson, 40, was found unresponsive in his cell Saturday at Fairbanks Correctional Center, according to the news release. He was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, where he remained until his death. 

Olson was a key witness in the trials of George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent, the four men convicted of killing Fairbanks teenager John Hartman in 1997. The men, who became known as the Fairbanks Four, had their convictions vacated in a negotiated settlement with the state in 2015, which followed a monthlong evidentiary hearing. 

When the four men were tried in 1999, Olson testified he was “110 percent” sure he saw them together assaulting another man on the night Hartman was fatally beaten in 1997. 

Olson waffled on his memory of the night over the years. He testified in a 2015 deposition that prosecutors pressured him to testify and coached him in his trial testimony. 

“Arlo Olson struggled for nearly a lifetime with mental illness as well the addiction and behavioral issues that often follow in its wake,” according to a Wednesday post on The Fairbanks Four blog. “To the degree that his choices were his own in regards to our case, he was given forgiveness long ago. His last act toward the Fairbanks Four was one of bravery and honesty and it is that act we will choose to remember.”

 The blog was launched in an effort to free the four men and has been updated sporadically since their release in December 2015. 

“Arlo Olson had a family who loved him dearly. He was a son, a father, a brother, and there always was and always will be much more to his story than its interconnection to this case,” according to the post.

Olson had only been at Fairbanks Correctional Center for a few days when he was found unresponsive in his cell. In April, he was accused of breaking into his girlfriend’s home in Galena. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and he surrendered June 7 to Alaska State Troopers in Kaltag.

Olson’s death was the third inmate this year at an Alaska Department of Corrections inmate. 

His death will be reviewed by troopers and by the state Medical Examiner’s Office like all prisoner deaths, according to the Department of Corrections news release. 

Contact Outdoors Editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.