Fairbanks police believed they could see the shape of one of the Fairbanks Four’s boot lugs in the facial injuries of John Hartman.
That was clear Thursday as Lieutenant Jim Geier testified at an ongoing hearing to consider whether the four men convicted of the 1997 murder, George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent are in fact innocent.
Under questioning by Fairbanks Four attorney Jahna Lindemuth, Geier recounted how detectives had a photo of Hartman’s badly beaten face on the wall.
“I hate to give this analogy, but they sell photographs, or posters, that you’re supposed to see a dolphin in, but you don’t notice it till you look at it for a long time and then there’s the dolphin,” Geier said. “Well, that was those tread marks.”
Lieutenant Geier helped develop an exhibit for a 1999 Fairbanks Four trail that overlaid photo copy transparencies of lugs from one of George Frese’s boots on photographs of Hartman’s badly bruised face, to demonstrate a match.
The original exhibit, lost and recreated for this month’s hearing, has been discredited by a forensic expert.
Also Thursday, Geier was asked by Lindemuth how thoroughly police considered alibi witnesses who could place the Fairbanks Four at other locations around the time of Hartman’s 1:30 a.m. attack.
Lindemuth: “Were you personally starting to get concerned that there were arrests that had gone forward without talking to alibi witnesses and that there might be issues with the arrests that you made?”
Geier noted discrepancies in the time lines provided by some alibi witnesses about the suspects where a bouts during night of partying around the city.
Geier also addressed police mishandling of a memo from a California prison guard citing admissions from former Fairbanks resident William Holmes that he and a group of friends had attacked Hartman, not the Fairbanks Four. Geier claims he disregarded the 2011 memo because he thought it was common knowledge.
“I presumed it all came off the internet,” Geier said.
Geier says he’d forgotten that it had been given to him by another officer, who’d also let it languish unchecked. It wasn’t until January 2014 when an Alaska State Trooper came across the memo at the police station that Geier says he realized its significance.
The memo, backed by a confession letter from Holmes, is central to the Fairbanks Four requests for post-conviction relief that triggered the current evidentiary hearing.
The state is scheduled to call its final witness, former prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant on Friday.