If an error of justice has been made in a homicide case, the public must have an assurance that an error was made before a corrective action is taken. That is the unfortunate reality of the situation involving four men who have repeatedly said they were wrongly convicted years ago for the 1997 killing of 15-year-old John Hartman in Fairbanks.
The four men may indeed be innocent; the recent sworn statement by another person claiming involvement in the killing along with several other people certainly raises the possibility like nothing else has in the long years of turmoil that have enveloped this crime.
Supporters of the four men — Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent, Marvin Roberts and George Frese — can reasonably argue that authorities rushed to convict them and that therefore the authorities should rush to exonerate them, given the new information obtained by the Alaska Innocence Project and filed with the court last month.
But it can’t work that way.
Certainly there should be a prompt inquiry by the state into the confession and related claims by this new individual. And that inquiry needs to make use of technology that wasn’t available in the late 1990s when this case was being investigated.
The assistant state attorney general who has been assigned to the review of the Hartman case said this week that the review will take several months. That does not seem unreasonable, assuming no additional information arrives that would warrant the near-immediate release from prison of the men who have become known as the Fairbanks Four.
Nevertheless, state officials must surely know that they cannot be seen as dawdling and reluctant to reopen a case that ultimately could bring a professional blemish to many people on the law enforcement and prosecutorial side.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,