Crime & Courts

First of 'Fairbanks Four' leaves prison for halfway house

Marvin Roberts, one of the so-called Fairbanks Four convicted of murder in 1997, left prison Wednesday for supervised release in a halfway house.

Roberts was released from Palmer Minimum Security Prison after serving nearly 18 years and boarded a plane for Fairbanks, said Alaska Innocence Project executive director Bill Oberly. Roberts is now 37, according to court documents.

Roberts was convicted along with Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease and George Frese for the 1997 beating death of John Hartman, 15, of Fairbanks.

Roberts' mother, Hazel Roberts, said she plans to visit her son at the halfway house "down the road" as soon as he settles in.

"I can't explain how I feel," she said. "I'm so ecstatic. I'm just so happy."

She said she'll visit her son once, then let the many friends and family who want to do the same get their turns.

Roberts will be able to look for work as part of his release, she said.

Sworn statements filed in September 2013 by attorneys working with the Alaska Innocence Project claim an entirely different group of people killed Hartman.

The state rejected those claims but agreed to hold an evidentiary hearing, which is set for October.

Vent's supervised release is about four years away, Oberly said. The Alaska Department of Corrections parole board granted him the early release in October.

Frese and Pease received much longer sentences, Oberly said.

"I'm certainly glad that (Roberts) is no longer incarcerated," he said, but that is tempered by the fact that the other three are still not free."

April Monroe, a friend who grew up with the four and founded the blog "Free the Fairbanks Four," said Wednesday evening that while she's glad to see Marvin come home, he is still "a convicted murderer on parole."

"He certainly is not free," she said. "Essentially, you can take away the bars, but that's not the same as exoneration. Marvin may be home, but he is not free."

Tegan Hanlon contributed to this report.