FAIRBANKS—U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday that passes along concerns from the Alaska Native community that four men have been wrongly convicted in the 1997 beating death of 15-year-old John Hartman in Fairbanks.
In a letter that also dealt with U.S. Department of Justice issues related to Alaska Natives, Murkowski told Holder about a unanimous resolution passed last week at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Fairbanks in support of the four men — Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts, Eugene Vent and George Frese. The four were convicted of murder in 1999 and are serving lengthy prison terms.
Murkowski stopped short of asking for federal intervention in the case and clarified in an interview Friday that her intention was merely to bring the case to the U.S. Department of Justice's attention.
"I wanted him (Holder) to know this issue is under way in Alaska, that Alaskans have expressed concerns," Murkowski told the News-Miner on Friday.
A state prosecutor has begun reviewing the convictions in light of information filed in defense of the four men last month. The new information includes a confession from William Z. Holmes, a man not connected to the four men convicted of the killing. Holmes provided a written statement saying he played a role in Hartman's killing, along with other people. Holmes is in jail in California where he is serving a double life sentence for another murder.
Murkowski said she was confident the Alaska Department of Law would handle the case fairly but wanted to make sure she "left the door open" for a possible federal investigation.
The Department of Law didn't win much confidence from supporters of the four men last month with its statement announcing it would conduct a special investigation, Murkowski said in her letter to Holder. The department said in its statement that it remained "confident" the four convictions were properly obtained in the three jury trials.
The statement "raised questions within the Alaska Native community on the question of whether the state of Alaska can and will objectively investigate it's past conduct," Murkowski said.
"While I have every confidence that the state of Alaska's investigation will reach a just conclusion, it is crucial that no stone be left unturned with respect to the question of whether 'The Fairbanks Four' have been unlawfully incarcerated," Murkowski said.
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.