Potentially exonerating info leaked in Fairbanks Four case

Statements undermining murder convictions of the so called “Fairbanks Four” were briefly published in an on line Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article.  The web story, which was quickly taken down by the paper today, shares leaked court documents outlining long sealed statements about the 1997 murder of John Hartman.

The statements about the Hartman case were made by Jason Wallace to public defender’s office staff in 2003, when he was facing trial for an unrelated killing.  According to what’s in the Newsminer article, Wallace said he and two high school friends randomly attacked 15-year-old John Hartman on a downtown street in October 1997.  It corroborates in some details a 2011 confession to the killing by another jailed murderer and former friend, William Holmes. Wallace and Holmes blame the actual beating on the other, saying a group of friends, not the Fairbanks Four, attacked Hartman. Wallace’s attorney, Jason Gazewood was not available to comment.

Three of the four men convicted of the Hartman murder remain jailed: George Frese, Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent. The fourth, Marvin Roberts, got out on parole earlier this summer.

It’s unclear how the News-Miner got the court documents containing Wallace’s statements about the killing, and why the paper pulled the story.  News-Miner editor Rod Boyce did not reply to a request for comment Friday morning. Fairbanks Four advocate April Monroe Frick says she’s disappointed the story was pulled, and posted a copy of it to her blog: “Free the Fairbanks Four.”

“I think this is is an obvious puzzle piece. It’s been apparent from kind of the veiled references for a long time that there were statements by Jason Wallace made to public officials, sworn to be agents of justice, that have been kept secret for a long time. What we now know are the details, which largely corroborate the confession of Holmes.”

Monroe Frick says the release is not likely to affect what happens in actual court. Wallace has appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court to block use of his statements by Fairbanks Four attorneys, as part of their request for post-conviction relief.  An evidentiary hearing in the broader case is scheduled for October.