FAIRBANKS—The ex-girlfriend of Marvin Roberts' uncle testified by video-teleconference Tuesday that she helped dispose of a bloody pair of leather tennis shoes on Oct. 10, 1997, the night Fairbanks teenager John Hartman was found mortally injured.
The testimony from Margaretta Hoffman, known then as Crystal, is the latest in a series of new narratives on both sides of this case that are coming out now as the four men convicted of killing Hartman sue to obtain a court declaration of actual innocence.
Hoffman testified for the state that on Oct. 10, 1997, she was out doing cocaine and drinking at Roberts' house with her boyfriend Kenneth Mayo and Roberts' parents. She said Roberts came home at about dawn and immediately wanted to confer with Mayo, his uncle.
“When he (Mayo) came out of the room he had a pair of tennis shoes and he said ‘We gotta get rid of these tennis shoes," Hoffman said.
“Kenny explained to me that Marvin had just beat the (expletive) out of somebody, him and his buddies, and they needed to get rid of these shoes.”
She said Mayo later relayed to her graphic information about the sexual assault he told her Roberts and his friends had inflicted on Hartman.
Attorney Jahna Lindemuth questioned Hoffman's credibility and her honesty in cross-examination questions. Hoffman testified that her relationship with Mayo ended on bad terms about 15 years ago when she was arrested for a domestic violence assault against him.
Mayo will testify later in this case, and he'll say this narrative about disposing of bloody shoes never happened, Lindemuth said. Last week Roberts testified he knows his uncle's ex-girlfriend but didn't see her that morning. His uncle was asleep on the couch when he came home early on Oct. 11, he said.
Lindemuth also pressed Hoffman for a detailed estimate on a timeline of partying at Roberts' house. Hoffman said they were up when Roberts came home at dawn and that they went out by daylight to throw away the shoes. Sunrise that day was at 8:32 a.m.
Hoffman's account wasn't part of the original trials of Roberts or co-defendants George Frese, Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent. The four were convicted in three different 1999 trials and sentenced to prison terms of 33 to 79 years.
Hoffman said she contacted special prosecutor Adrienne Bachman recently after seeing television news coverage about the Fairbanks Four, the term used by supporters of the four petitioners. The Hoffman deposition was recorded July 29 of this year.
State attorneys working to uphold the convictions of Frese, Pease, Roberts and Vent played the first part of Hoffman's deposition Tuesday afternoon, the 16th day of this hearing and the second day of the state's case.
Destroying the evidence
Hoffman said she and Mayo drove away to throw away the shoes. The shoes were black leather, a "manly casual type shoe that you would wear to work. An office type of a tennis shoe," Hoffman said. They had "orange brown" stains that Hoffman took to be blood.
Hoffman said she and Mayo went from Roberts' home to a Dumpster by Thrifty Liquor at South Cushman Street and Airport Way but decided against using the Dumpster. They drove on and found another trash receptacle at a beige building with stairs. Mayo threw the shoes away, Hoffman said.
With this job complete, they went on to The Boatel bar, their usual morning hangout place, Hoffman said.
Hoffman said she went back to the Roberts' home on Sunday, Oct. 12, 1997, but was "excluded" from further discussion of the Hartman case.
Like Veronica Solomon, a taxi cab driver who testified Monday and Tuesday about seeing the faces of Pease and Roberts at the crime scene, Hoffman characterized her story as an unpopular truth she's mostly kept to herself for years.
Asked why she came forward so many years after the original case, she stated, "the mother of the child." Specifically, she said that Hartman's family needs to know that the people jailed for his killing are the right people.
Hoffman said she's told the story only a few other times over the last 18 years. She called Fairbanks police once or twice "several years back" — she's not sure when — and didn't get a response. She told the story to her counselor, and recently she told her husband and her daughter after the story was on the news again.
Hoffman said she didn't want to testify in person in the courtroom but agreed to do the videotaped deposition.
Solomon, the taxi driver, may have to give both video deposition and courtroom testimony. Lindemuth announced Tuesday that Solomon has been served with a subpoena.
Lyle put off ruling on whether Solomon will be called to testify in person.
Solomon said she was nervous about testifying because she's Alaska Native and that it's politically unpopular among Alaska Natives to oppose the effort to exonerate Roberts, Pease, Frese and Vent.
The mysterious 'Harold'
Also on Tuesday the state called Harold Lundy to testify by Skype from a courtroom on the Gulf Coast of Texas.
Lundy testified Tuesday he was in no way connected to the Hartman killing. Lundy lived in Fairbanks for 10 months when he was in high school and knew some of the people who the petitioners have named as alternate suspects in Hartman's killing. Lundy didn't live in Fairbanks in October, 1997, the month in which Hartman was killed. He had moved away from Fairbanks at the end of the previous school year.
Lundy's name isn't mentioned in the central narrative of the Hartman killing as told by petitioner witness Bill Holmes, who testified earlier this month he was driving his friends on a violent joyride when four of his friends got out of the car and beat up a boy they later learned was Hartman. Holmes names his Lathrop High School classmates as Jason Wallace, Rashan Brown, Marquez Pennington and Shelmar Johnson.
A "Harold" with an unspecified last name is mentioned in two documents that the petitioners have offered in support of the alternate suspect theory.
In one, a 2014 police interview, a person named Takory Stern states that Pennington — identified by the nickname "QB" — came by his room at the Alaska Motor Inn that night with a story about having beaten up a "white boy." Stern mentioned the name "Harold" without context in the interview. Stern died in 2014.
The other mention comes in an affidavit from Scott Davison stating Wallace told Davison that a "Harold," who Davison didn't think he'd ever met, was driving a Ford Tempo (Holmes’ car) when others got out and beat up Hartman.
Davison testified earlier in this hearing that some of the things in his affidavit were wrong because it was written by an attorney and that he signed it in a hurry without reading carefully. He said while some of the details were wrong, he stands by his memory of Wallace confessing to him and threatening to kill him if he ever told anyone as they skipped school together on Monday Oct. 13, 1997.
Lundy said Tuesday that he and Davison were friends at Lathrop because they both rode skateboards. He said they've remained friends and talk frequently on the phone.
The state called two other witnesses Tuesday intended to discredit the alternate theory of Hartman's killing.
Wallace's wife, Mishone Wallace, Skyped into the courtroom from Tacoma Washington. She testified Wallace never told her he was involved in the Hartman killing during the year and a half they knew each other before Wallace was arrested in December 2002 for the murder of Teacka Bacote in Ester.
She said she knew Wallace was a cocaine trafficker but that he also didn't share with her the plans he made with Holmes to kill four people and take over a drug-dealing operation.
Former Shasta County, California, prosecutor Brent Ledford testified from his home in Barcelona, Spain that Holmes never mentioned he was involved in the Hartman killing when Holmes was being prosecuted for his role in that 2002 murder conspiracy.
The hearing continues today at 8:30 a.m. on the fifth floor of the Rabinowitz Courthouse in Fairbanks. The Hoffman deposition is expected to continue this morning.
Contact outdoors editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.