John Hartman murder case

Court Services officer Cheryl Jasper, bottom left, escorts the four men accused of killing John Hartman into Fairbanks Superior Court on Tuesday. From back left are Eugene Vent, George Frese, Marvin Roberts and Kevin Pease.

FAIRBANKS - One of the four men convicted in the 1997 beating death of a Fairbanks teenager has been granted an early release.

The Alaska Department of Corrections parole board granted Eugene Vent discretionary parole Tuesday, allowing him to leave prison in August 2019. His new release date is 3 1/2 years ahead of his mandated release date, said Parole Board Director Jeff Edwards.

Inmates in Alaska qualify for possible discretionary parole after they complete either one-third of their sentence or a mandatory minimum. The parole board met to discuss Vent's case Monday and announced the release date Thursday, Edwards said. Edwards declined to state why the board granted Vent parole because the parole board hearing is confidential.

Vent is one of four men convicted of fatally beating 15-year-old John Hartman on a downtown street corner. The four, Vent, George Frese, Marvin Roberts and Kevin Pease, were convicted in three separate jury trials and were given sentences ranging from 33 years for Roberts to 79 years for Frese. Vent was sentenced to 38 years.

The parole board previously granted parole to Roberts. He's scheduled to be released next year. No parole hearings are scheduled for the other two.

The four men have filed numerous appeals in their cases since their conviction. The most recent was bolstered by an alternative theory for Hartman's death. William Z. Holmes, a former Fairbanks resident serving a double life sentence in California in an unrelated case made a sworn written statement that he and four fellow Lathrop High School students he was driving around with beat Hartman to death, not the four men who were convicted.

The new court filings have led to new political pressures in the issue. Last fall, the statewide Alaska Federation of Natives, which previously had not gotten involved in the case, passed a resolution asking for the state to re-evaluate the convictions. This spring, Fairbanks city Mayor John Eberhart said he supports a federal investigation of the Hartman case.

Hartman's older brother, Chris Kelly, attended Monday's parole hearing. He said he and Hartman's father spoke against granting Vent an early release.

"My family and I believe these are the men responsible for my little brother's murder. Eugene once apologized to me me face to face," Kelly said Thursday by Facebook message. "I look at this granted parole with fear because I looked Eugene in the face and the kid that apologized to me isn't there anymore and I think someone will get hurt before people actually start to believe the truth."

Contact outdoors editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.