'Fairbanks Four' trial ends, judge won't rush decision

Marvin Roberts, right, a member of the so-called Fairbanks Four, hugs his lawyer, Alaska Innocence Project attorney Bill Oberly during Roberts' address at the Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage, Alaska, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015. Roberts and three other men were convicted of killing a Fairbanks teenager in 1997, but a post-conviction civil trial in being conducted in Fairbanks this month. The men, who have long claimed they were unjustly accused of the murder, are seeking to have their convictions overturned. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — 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 trial.

 

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.

“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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