FAIRBANKS—Reactions varied among supporters of the so-called Fairbanks Four gathered outside the courtroom when they heard the three men still in custody would soon be free.
Some cheered. Others wept.
There was no single moment of realization for the several dozen people outside the courtroom, as news broke via Twitter to different groups at different times. By the time the courtroom doors opened and people began streaming out, though, everyone outside on the fifth floor of the Rabinowitz Courthouse was swept up into an atmosphere of celebration.
Travis Cole beat a drum loudly and bystanders picked up a traditional song of celebration as Tanana Chiefs Conference President Victor Joseph danced with Marvin Roberts — released earlier this year on parole — in the middle of the fifth floor.
"When I heard the news it was just overwhelming," Joseph said. "We went a long way about trying to get to this moment."
Joseph said TCC is focused on celebrating and that other thoughts will come later.
"Right now the only plans that we have at this moment is welcoming these guys back into our community, making sure they transition into our community well," Joseph said. "We just need to celebrate this moment in time right now. There's a lot of time to discuss a little bit later."
As far as what comes next, Joseph said TCC will continue to seek justice from all angles.
"We definitely believe there still needs to be accountability on all sides of this, and there still needs to be justice for the Hartman family," Joseph said.
Debbie Leach, whose nephew Kevin Pease had been in jail for 18 years on the charges, said it's about time the men were freed.
"It's about damn time ... they just need to start living their life," Leach said. "As he said, 'I'm not getting any younger.' It's 18 years of your growing up in jail. It's crazy. It's time to start living, and we have a lot of catching up to do."
Gov. Bill Walker issued a statement shortly after the close of the hearing.
“I’m pleased the state of Alaska Department of Law and legal counsel representing the Fairbanks Four, including the state of Alaska Office of Public Advocacy, agreed on a settlement that satisfied the court," Walker said. "I’m glad there was a process available to the Fairbanks Four where all involved could arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement.
"I hope this settlement helps to begin the healing process, and provides some measure of justice and closure for Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease, George Frese and Marvin Roberts as they return home to their families," he said.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski released a statement expressing her happiness at hearing the news.
Murkowski noted how she asked the state to "take a hard look at whether their convictions were just." She commended UAF journalism professor Brian O'Donoghue for his reporting on the issue, everyone from the Innocence Project and law firm Dorsey & Whitney for representing the men. In addition, she commended all the members of the Fairbanks community "who have stood vigil to ensure that the cause of the Fairbanks Four was not forgotten."
Murkowski closed her statement with two words: "Justice prevails!"
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.