FAIRBANKS—The Alaska Innocence Project, an Anchorage-based nonprofit organization with a staff of 1 1/2 people, usually gets its clients when inmates write from jail asking for help.
In the case of the four Fairbanks men convicted of the 1997 killing of John Hartman, the response was a “flood of people,” asking for help, according to executive director Bill Oberly who took on the case in 2008. (To read that series, visit http://www.newsminer.com/fairbanks_four ) That year the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner published a seven-part story examining the investigation of Hartman’s killing. The Hartman case remains the case that’s received the most attention among the dozens of cases the innocence project investigates, Oberly said.
Although the Alaska Innocence Project started in 2008, major progress in the Hartman case happened in the last year. At Wednesday’s press conference Oberly said he can’t comment on how he got the name of alternative suspect William Z. Holmes, whose confessions he argues should exculpate the four now convicted in Hartman’s killing. But he said Holmes had not been identified as a suspect when he started the case.
Identifying Holmes as an alternative suspect was the start of the process. Marvin Roberts, one of the four men jailed for Hartman’s murder, was asked to write a letter to Holmes saying he had been imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit and asking for Holmes to help by providing more information about Hartman’s death. Months passed and Holmes didn’t respond. An initial follow-up letter from Oberly didn’t get a response, but a second follow-up did, Oberly said. Holmes wrote back establishing communication, eventually leading to the statement by Holmes that played a central role in Wednesday’s court filings.
Tanana Chiefs Conference’s effort to offer a cash reward for information about Hartman’s killing was not a factor in the court fillings, Oberly said. None of the reward, which was at $35,000 as of last year, has been used.
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.