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Crime & Justice

'Fairbanks Four' hearing ends; judge says he won't rush decision

FAIRBANKS — Four men who claim they were wrongly found guilty of killing a Fairbanks teenager in 1997 will have to wait learn the outcome of their most recent court hearing.

Closing arguments in the post-conviction relief trial for the so-called Fairbanks Four — George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent — wrapped up Tuesday. But Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle said his decision in the case likely won't come for several months, reported The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

"It's going to be a long process," Lyle said. "We've had five weeks at trial. I have a lot of decisions I need to make."

The four men were sentenced in the fatal beating of 15-year-old John Hartman 18 years ago and have been behind bars ever since.

They sued the state for an "actual innocence" declaration based on the recantation of a key witness who testified against them and new information that alleges another group of high school students killed Hartman.

Judges typically have six months to hand down a ruling after taking a case under advisement.

Lyle said that six-month period will not begin until he finishes reviewing the transcripts from the three original trials and later post-conviction relief attempts. He said he plans to complete that review by the end of January, putting off a ruling until July.

But Lyle also indicated that going past the six-month mark could be a possibility.

"I don't want you to think that I will rush to make the six-month deadline or be concerned about how I'm going to get my own bills paid if I don't meet the six-month deadline," he said. "The court is prepared to deal with that."

When Lyle does finally decide on the case, he could choose to release the four men with a declaration of innocence or order a new trial.

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