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'Fairbanks Four' defend call for new trials

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS – While both prosecutors and defense attorneys now agree that new hearings are warranted in the so-called “Fairbanks Four” case, that’s where the agreement stops.

“The state’s answer contains nothing more than innuendo, vague references to possible evidence and unsupported statements,” Bill Oberly, attorney for the Alaska Innocence Project, said in a court filing this week.

The state has rejected claims that the four men jailed for the 1997 beating death of 15-year-old John Hartman are innocent but said a new hearing is justified because of the "community's need for resolution of this polarizing case."

Oberly said the innocence claim is founded on new evidence, namely the “identification of the actual perpetrators of the crime, newly discovered after diligent investigation” by the Alaska Innocence Project. He said that under Alaska law new trials should be granted.

Oberly wrote that the state’s motion to dismiss claims regarding previously litigated expert witness testimony “misses the mark” and ignores the totality of the evidence that would be presented at a new trial, including advances in shoe-print analysis and new studies about the ability of humans to identify individuals at a distance.

Regarding the naming of the “actual perpetrators,”  the state questions the credibility of  the two individuals who disclosed the names because they never used the information to their advantage when they were sentenced in other cases.

In May, the state challenged the affidavits by convicted murderer William Holmes and repeat offender Scott Davison that men other than the four individuals jailed for the crime are the real killers.

“The State spends four pages of its answer making the strange argument that the affidavits of William Holmes and Scott Davison should be questioned because they didn’t try to use this information to get good deals in other cases they were involved in,” Oberly wrote. “While the opposite conclusion, that the two statements are more likely to be true because the authors are not seeking any gain from them, is as likely or more likely to be true, any attempt to argue the significance of these actions before the evidentiary hearing is wasted paper.”