Fairbanks Four wins at Ninth Circuit Court for a civil case - Must Read Alaska
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Sunday, July 12, 2020
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Fairbanks Four wins at Ninth Circuit Court for a civil case


The Fairbanks Four are evidently going to get their day in court in their civil case against the City of Fairbanks and Fairbanks police for a case dating back to 1997.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today denied the City of Fairbanks’ request for a review of a decision that reversed Judge H. Russel Holland’s dismissal of a claim against the City of Fairbanks brought by the four convicted murderers. The four are currently free.

District Court Judge Holland had tossed out the claim the four made that their rights had been violated during prosecution and that there was misconduct by investigators.

They filed appeal to Ninth Circuit, which reversed Holland’s order to dismiss. Now, the court has refused the City of Fairbanks request for another look.

The four men, convicted of beating 15-year-old John Hartman to death in 1997, had signed an agreement they would not sue the city of Fairbanks or police or prosecutors; this agreement was part of a deal that Gov. Bill Walker made through his Attorney General Craig Richards to drop all the charges and allow the men to walk.

After the murder, one of the Fairbanks Four, George Frese, sought treatment for injuries to his foot, telling medical staff that he injured his foot kicking someone in a fight the night before. The tread of his boot matched the shoeprints on John Hartman’s forehead. Frese later confessed to participating in the murder.

Eugene Vent was questioned by police and made several statements indicative of guilt. While incarcerated, he allegedly told another inmate that, “We didn’t mean to kick [JH] to death.”

Kevin Pease admitted to a fellow inmate that, “[I] did it for the punk’s money.” Another inmate asked Pease if he had committed the murder, and Pease responded, “I was f****d up, and it was bad.”

The alibi presented by Marvin Roberts was rebutted by other witnesses. Tire tread marks also placed the men at the scene of the murder.

Three separate juries found the men guilty. Marvin Roberts and Kevin Pease were tried together, while George Frese and Eugene Vent were tried separately.

(The underlying facts are outlined in several written appellate decisions, including Vent v. State, 67 P.3d 661 (Alaska App. 2003); Pease v. State, 54 P.3d 316 (Alaska App. 2002); Frese v. State, 2002 WL 31376010 (Alaska App. Oct. 23, 2002), 2004 WL 178953 (Alaska App. Jan. 28, 2004).

This was not the first time the four men had gathered to threaten and endanger Fairbanks citizens.

Just two weeks before John Hartman’s murder, the four accosted a group of people walking from a hotel to a nearby restaurant. They made insulting remarks and left only after one of the men chased them away. Minutes later, George Frese returned on his bicycle, pulled out a gun, pointed it at the man, and announced he planned to shoot him. Frese was convicted of assault and his conviction was upheld on appeal. Frese v. State, 2001 WL 1090749 (Alaska App. Sept. 19, 2001).

Just hours before Hartman’s murder, the four allegedly beat and robbed a man leaving a wedding reception. Other than the fact that the injuries were not fatal, the assault was remarkably similar to the attack on John Hartman.

Despite ample evidence of guilt, the four claimed they were unfairly treated because of race, and the Alaska Federation of Natives called for the men’s release.

The Walker Administration acceded to the political pressure, dismissing all charges and freeing the four murderers under the condition they would not sue. Later, Walker named the attorney for the Fairbanks Four as his Attorney General. Jahna Lindemuth served in that role after Craig Richards resigned and is now one of the lead attorneys trying to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Apparently unconstrained by their contractual obligations, the four sued the City of Fairbanks and several Fairbanks police officers.

Judge H. Russel Holland dismissed the claim on the ground that the four could not prove they were wrongfully convicted.

Roberts, Frese, Vent, and Pease then filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Two members of a 3-judge panel voted to send the civil claim back to the trial court, while the third member argued the dismissal should be upheld.

The City of Fairbanks asked for either a rehearing or review by a full panel of the Ninth Circuit. On June 26, the Ninth Circuit declined the request. 

Judge Lawrence VanDyke, a former editor of the Harvard Law Review, joined by Judge Sandra Segal Ikuta, a former clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, published a blistering dissent explaining that the two members of the 3-judge panel had so far departed from Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), as to create new law unprecedented in the federal courts. 

According to Judge VanDyke:

The split panel decision in this case created an additional exception to the Heck bar that, as far as I can tell, is unprecedented – not only in our circuit, but across the federal courts. It did so by reinterpreting Heck’s favorable termination requirement into something less than even a neutral termination requirement. In doing so, it expressly refused to apply the “hoary principle[s]” adopted from the malicious prosecution context that were the express basis for the majority’s decision in Heck. Now, in every situation where a criminal defendant’s conviction is ministerially vacated without any judicial determination that the conviction was actually “invalid,” this new exception casts into doubt the Heck bar’s applicability. This includes in the many states in our circuit that have statutes that automatically vacate some convictions once the defendant has served his sentence. Heck is a quarter-century old, and its better-established exceptions already bedevil federal courts across the country, including this one. The fact that no other court has conceived or applied the panel majority’s new exception in over 25 years of applying Heck should be reason enough for this Court to rehear this case en banc before cracking this lid on Pandora’s box. 

A copy of today’s decision is at this link:


The defendants have not proven to be model citizens since their release. In 2018, Kevin Pease was arrested and charged with DUI and assault. He entered into a plea bargain wherein he pled guilty to DUI in exchange for dismissal of the assault charges.

In 2020, George Frese was arrested in Palmer and charged with vehicle theft, DUI, and reckless driving and failure to stop at the direction of an officer. He pled guilty to DUI and felony failure to stop/reckless driving. Last month he was arrested in Fairbanks and charged with assault, disorderly conduct, and criminal mischief. He pled guilty to criminal mischief. 

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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • WOW…it only took you +5-months to “report” on this. Didn’t this happen in in late-Jan?


    • Bully.

      • Explain yourself Greg !! Cmon put your money where your mouth is. This is a place for open discussion not name calling!!

    • Reading comprehension truly is a gift.

  • They seem like good boys. They’re just misunderstood. [/sarc]

    • When asked why he stopped kicking he said because my foot was broke- all guilty as charged-

  • The Fairbanks Four have reneged on their part of the agreement. It is only right that the government reinstate criminal charges against them in the murder of John Hartman.

  • Complex case. Reverse racism, that no one talks about. Four Native guys kicking a White kid to death. Is that not a hate crime? Then, some Black guys, who are already incarcerated in California, admitted to the crime. Confessions can sometimes be false. But four independent confessions from four different guys? Not likely. The Fairbanks cops most certainly got it right. These Native guys did the dirty deed and promised not to sue the City so that they could get early release. Now, they are breaching their agreement not to sue. And finally, the old Walker Adminstration, with its many losers like Bill Walker himself and his old old law partner (AG), have proven to be a bunch of political cave-ins to partisanship. Walker, who hand-picked his Native, Democrat Lt. Governor, will be remembered as a phoney and more than slightly retarded. And Byron Mallott is now chasing 72 under-aged virgins in his Happy hunting Grounds. The only real unknown in this case is when does John Hartman get his fully deserved justice?

  • We will never know the truth.

  • Do you not see the clever and devious trap being set by President Trump and Attorney General Barr..The Fairbanks Four (Ff) were convicted of murder under state law in state court. Those charges were dismissed. Now the FF will have to testify at their civil trial to try and get money. There will be evidence of the crimes committed and killing a white man is a hate crime punishable by life in prison or the death penalty. I am confident that a day after the civil case is concluded our President will announce that based on the civil trial testimony, the FF will face federal charges. When AG Barr shifts his mean and vicious attack dogs from the Roger Stone case to the Fairbanks Four, their claims of innocence won’t matter one bit. And since they have no political connections, there will be no pardons and no kindness. When people are not so nice they must be punished swiftly, strongly, and greater than ever before. This is why we need a leader who truly believes in law and order. Make America Safe Again.

  • You are leaving so many facts out of this story. That is not responsible journalism. Here are the facts, easily Googleable:

    “Hours after Alaskan teenager John Hartman was found dead near a street corner in downtown Fairbanks in 1997, police picked up and coerced confessions from two of Hartman’s high-school classmates — George Frese and Eugene Vent. During an early-hours interrogation of the two young boys, who were intoxicated and unaccompanied by parents or a lawyer, they were led to believe both Marvin Roberts and Kevin Pease were also involved. Despite the lack of any physical evidence, witnesses, motive or even explanation, all four were convicted of the murder. The group of boys became known as the “Fairbanks Four.” In the years following their convictions, Frese and Vent recanted and claimed their confessions were false. In 2013, the Alaska Dispatch reported that Frese, 36; Vent, 33; Roberts, 35; and Pease, 35 “have maintained their innocence in prison ever since, first serving time in Arizona, Colorado, and now back in Alaska.” According to evidence presented by the Alaska Innocence Project, another man — William Holmes — said in a sworn affidavit that he and another group of Fairbanks teenagers killed Hartman. Holmes is serving a life sentence for the murder of two people in California that happened after the Fairbanks crime. One week after the Alaska Innocence Project filed court documents citing new evidence that may suggest that four men who were convicted of the 1997 deadly beating of a classmate are innocent, the Alaska Department of Law ordered an independent review of the case.”

    • Four independent confessions. Native thugs gang-banging a 15-year old
      White kid to death. Where is YOUR compassion for the innocent, Ma? This is a case about racism against Whites. Native man killing two State Troopers in Tanana? Native man killing a Fairbanks cop in his patrol car? Get your own facts straight and quit playing your obnoxious race bs. It’s sick.

  • It is foolish to re-litigate the Fairbanks Four case here. Everyone can cherry-pick facts and circumstances to support a position. Ideally each of the Four would have sterling lives following their release. That has not been case. Each spent half their lives in prison following very significant deviations in investigatory processes. If the Fairbanks Police Department wants to defend their actions in this case, the litigation should proceed.

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