Retrials sought in 1997 Fairbanks slaying

Posted: Tuesday, April 01, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Two of four men convicted in the 1997 death of a Fairbanks teenager want new trials.

Kevin Pease, now 24, and Marvin Roberts, 25, are seeking retrials based on new information that's surfaced in the case involving the beating death of 15-year-old John Hartman.

Lori Bodwell, an attorney for Pease, recently filed a motion in state Superior Court asking for a retrial in response to a story in the March 2 issue of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. The story quoted jurors in the 1999 trial saying they conducted an unauthorized experiment before finding Pease and Roberts guilty.

The article outlined an investigation by University of Alaska Fairbanks journalism students that found jurors left the courthouse during deliberations to test the validity of statements made by Arlo Olson, the prosecution's key witness. Olson testified that he had seen from several hundred feet away Roberts, Pease and two other men assaulting a man.

Frankie Dayton Jr. was the victim in that mugging, which occurred the same night as Hartman.

Jurors quoted in the article said one juror paced off a certain distance to determine how well they could distinguish the juror.

All four defendants were convicted in the death of Hartman, who was found lying in downtown Fairbanks early in the morning of Oct. 11, 1997. He had been kicked repeatedly in the head and there was evidence he had been sexually assaulted with a foreign object. He died the next day.

Within a day, police had arrested Pease and Roberts, Eugene Vent, now 23, and George Frese, now 26.

Pease and Roberts were tried together and convicted of second-degree murder, robbery and assault in connection with both Hartman's death and the assault Dayton. Pease was sentenced to 79 years in prison, Roberts to 33.

Frese and Vent were convicted in separate trials and sentenced to 77 and 38 years in prison.

In September, the Alaska Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of Pease and Roberts. The appeals court also has rejected appeals by Vent and Frese.

In her motion for a new trial, Bodwell argued that a defendant's right to a fair trial is violated when a jury relies on information other than what's presented during trial.

''The law governing this issue is well settled. Jurors have a duty to consider only the evidence presented in open court,'' wrote Bodwell, who further argued that a jury experiment does not give a defendant the right of cross-examination.

Dick Madson, Roberts' lawyer, said Monday that he will add his client to Bodwell's appeal.

Whether a retrial is granted on the juror experiment issue is up to Ben Esch, the Nome judge who presided over Roberts' and Pease's trial, which was held in Anchorage because of extensive publicity surrounding the case in Fairbanks.

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