The Fairbanks Four are free as of 5:15 p.m. Thursday evening under terms of a negotiated settlement.
The four men, who’ve long fought their conviction for the 1997 killing of Fairbanks teenager John Hartman, had their murder convictions erased under a deal that’s similar but not identical to one proposed last week.
Marvin Roberts was released on parole earlier this year, but the other three men — George Frese, Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent — had been in jail since their arrests in October 1997.
After a final hearing at the Rabinowitz Courthouse on Thursday they went to Fairbanks Correctional Center one final time before they were released. The men went immediately to a celebration at the David Salmon Tribal Hall.
Terms of the deal
The settlement came after a six-hour closed-door negotiation Thursday on the fifth floor of the Rabinowitz Courthouse with retired Superior Court Judge Niesje Steinkruger, who presided over Frese’s 1999 trial in Anchorage.
Friends, family members and supporters of the men began assembling outside the locked courtroom by mid-morning Thursday, taking turns to peek through a crack in the door to look into the court. The doors to the courtroom opened to the public at about 4 p.m.
Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle, who presided over a five-week evidentiary hearing in the case this fall, explained the terms of the deal in a 20-minute public hearing. The settlement cuts short what would have been an eight-month wait for Lyle make rulings based on the evidentiary hearing.
Under the deal, Lyle granted the men a new trial, based on an understanding from both sides that there was enough new evidence in the case that he might have ordered a new trial if he were to eventually rule in the evidentiary hearing.
The state then agreed to dismiss charges and Lyle ordered the men’s “immediate and unconditional release.”