FAIRBANKS—Most of the crowd didn’t know the specifics Wednesday afternoon, only that there was going to be an update on a “significant development” in the case of the so-called “Fairbanks Four,” who have been jailed since 1997 for the murder of 15-year-old John Hartman on a downtown Fairbanks street corner.

Cheers went up when Alaska Innocence Project director Bill Oberly announced he was filing evidence in support of the four men’s innocence, including an affidavit from a former Lathrop High School student who now says he and four high school classmates killed Hartman.

The news conference, attended by well over 100 people, was part celebration, part prayer meeting and part call to action.

“Family and friends and folks who’ve walked through this long night carrying signs and saying prayers, refusing to give up. We give you thanks. But sunrise and daylight’s coming now,” said Rev. Scott Fisher from St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.

The crowd burst into spontaneous and joyous song and dance to the tune of Nuchalawoyya, a traditional song that means “where the rivers meet” in Athabascan.

The four convicted men are Marvin Roberts, Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease and George Frese. All but Pease have Alaska Native roots. Tanana Chiefs Conference, a consortium of 42 Interior villages, has held numerous rallies calling for their release in recent years.

Jerry Isaac, the president of the Tanana Chiefs Conference told the audience that he was originally “incredulous” about claims that the four were not guilty but later became convinced of their innocence.

“The boys are going to be calling me tonight and I’ll be telling them what’s happening. But they are just as excited as we are,” said Shirley Lee, the TCC justice task force chair. She read from a prepared statement, saying the event was too emotional to speak without notes.

“We pray that those in authority in dealing with this new information will work diligently and in good faith and consciousness to see that truth and justice are served,” she said.

Roberts mother, Hazel Roberts Mayo, was in tears after the news conference.

“This has been 16 years of a nightmare for me and this is the happiest day of my life,” she said. Then she corrected herself. “Well, when they come home will be the happiest.”

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

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