Fairbanks 4 parolee speaks out at AFN to standing ovation

Marvin Roberts, one of the Fairbanks Four, received a standing ovation when he walked onto the stage at AFN, Saturday. It was the first time Roberts had spoken out in such a public venue about the case.

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Raising an hand signing the number four became a symbol of solidarity at the 2015 AFN convention. Photo: Daysha Eaton/KBBI.
Raising an hand signing the number four became a symbol of solidarity at the 2015 AFN convention. Photo: Daysha Eaton/KBBI.

Marvin Roberts described the Fairbanks Four as four men trapped in a nightmare.

“This nightmare began in October 1997. Then like now, we four men maintain our innocence. I know for a fact that I am innocent and I believe in my heart that they are innocent.”

Roberts is Koyokon Athabascan from Tananna. He was paroled in June while the other three men, George Frese, Eugene Vent and Kevin Pease, remain jailed. Three of the men are Alaska Native and one is American Indian.

The men were convicted for the beating death of 15-year-old John Hartman on a downtown street. New evidence suggests others may be responsible for the killing.

Roberts said he remembers the night well. When he was 19, that the police came to take him away. He said he was asleep in his room with no worries.

“And then, knock, knock, knock (bangs on podium): ‘Fairbanks Police Department, open up we have a search warrant.’ I could not believe it. My mom opened the door and the police came in and arrested me. I left the house in handcuffs right in front of my parents and 4-year-old baby brother who immediately started crying.”

And he said the crying hasn’t stopped for the men and their families.

“To this day I still cry when I think of my friends, I hurt for Kevin and I hurt for Eugene and I hurt for George. I know they are still suffering in prison suffering right now. I think about them every day.”

Roberts called the movement to free the Four ‘miraculous.’ The case is under review in hearings taking place in Fairbanks now. There was a protest calling for exoneration of the Four during Governor Bill Walker’s speech opening day of AFN.

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Daysha Eaton is the News Director at KBBI in Homer. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.