Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Marvin Roberts

Other Alaska Cases
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Marvin_Roberts.jpg
In the early morning hours of October 11, 1997, 15-year-old John Hartman was savagely punched, kicked and sexually assaulted on the street in Fairbanks, Alaska. He was taken unconscious to the hospital.

Not long afterward, Fairbanks police investigating a disturbance at a motel picked up 17-year-old Eugene Vent, who was heavily intoxicated. Police said that later that day, following three separate interrogations, Vent admitted that he and three others—20-year-old George Frese, 19-year-old Marvin Roberts and 19-year-old Kevin Pease—were responsible for the attack on Hartman.

Meanwhile, several hours after Hartman was found, Frese came to the same hospital where Hartman was being treated and complained of a foot injury. When he said that he hurt his foot by kicking someone, a nurse notified police because Hartman had head injuries consistent with being kicked. Frese was questioned by police and subsequently confessed that he and the others had attacked Hartman.

On October 12, Hartman died without regaining consciousness.

Police also said that a witness, Arlo Olson, reported that he saw the four youths attack and rob 29-year-old Franklin Dayton outside of a wedding reception and drive away in a car that was linked to Roberts.

Pease, Vent, Roberts and Frese were charged with the murder, robbery, and sexual assault of Hartman and the robbery and assault of Dayton.

Frese went on trial first in Anchorage Superior Court after a change of venue was granted. Olson testified and identified Frese and the other three in the assault of Dayton, saying he was able to identify them from a distance of more than 100 yards even though the lighting was poor and he had been drinking and smoking marijuana.

Chris Stone, a friend of Hartman’s, testified that he was with Hartman earlier in the evening, but that they parted ways prior to the assault. However, a store employee testified that Stone burst into the store and was upset about his friend being hurt—which Stone denied doing. Months later and prior to the trials, Stone would tell police that he was scared the night Hartman died—strongly suggesting he may have been present or was a witness to Hartman’s beating. The prosecution did not disclose that statement to defense attorneys.

The prosecution introduced Frese’s confession as well as the testimony of a detective who testified that an overlay of a photograph of Frese’s boot with a photograph of Hartman’s face showed that the boot was a match for the injuries.

The prosecution failed to disclose, however, that crime lab analysts were unable to conclude that Frese’s boots inflicted the injuries and that the analysts did not prepare any reports of their findings.

A detective testified that tire marks near where Hartman was found on the street were similar to the tires on Roberts’ car.

On February 16, 1999, the jury convicted Frese on all counts. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Vent went to trial in Anchorage Superior Court in the summer of 1999 based largely on the same evidence, including his confession. On July 28, 1999, he was convicted as well and was sentenced to 38 years in prison.

Roberts and Pease were convicted in Anchorage Superior Court in August 1999. Roberts was sentenced to 33 years in prison. Pease was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

During the three trials, four different jail inmates testified that on various occasions while they were awaiting trial the defendants made admissions to the beating of Hartman. One jail inmate said that Vent said the intended target was Stone.

In 2000, a motion for a new trial was filed on behalf of the defendants after Arlo Olson recanted his identifications of the defendants as the men who attacked and robbed Dayton. However, the motion was denied when Olson recanted his recantation.

Vent, Pease, Roberts and Frese appealed their convictions but the Alaska Court of Appeals upheld the convictions. Vent and Frese had recanted their confessions. Frese said he blacked out and had no memory of the night and because he was afraid, he agreed with the details that the police gave him. Vent said that police falsely told him he had blood on his shoes and that he finally gave up after being questioned three times over 11 hours.

In 2008, following more than seven years of investigating the case, Brian O’Donoghue, a former reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner newspaper who was a journalism professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, published a series of articles in the newspaper that strongly suggested that the men, who were known as the “Fairbanks Four,” were innocent. The series drew on years of reporting by O’Donoghue’s students.

Based on the articles, the Alaska Innocence Project began re-investigating the case. In 2013, after contacting dozens of witnesses, attorneys for the Project filed post-conviction motions on behalf of the defendants seeking a new trial. The motions said that William Holmes and four of his friends were responsible for Hartman’s murder.

The motions said that Holmes, a former drug dealer serving a life sentence in California for murder, and Jason Wallace, serving a 70-year sentence for a murder in Alaska, were among those who killed Hartman.

Holmes, according to the motions, admitted that he was the driver of the car containing others, including Wallace, and that Wallace and the others killed Hartman.

Holmes said Wallace bragged about the killing not long after it happened and threatened to kill anyone who didn't keep quiet.

In addition, Olson provided a sworn affidavit stating he was never sure about his identifications, but he believed the police had the youths who committed the crime based on the confessions.

State authorities said they remained confident that Pease, Vent, Roberts and Frese were guilty, but agreed to reinvestigate the case based on the new evidence.

In October and November 2015, a lengthy hearing was held on the motions for a new trial. At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Paul Lyle indicated that he would not rule on the case for several months.

On December 18, 2015, the prosecution reached an agreement with the attorneys for the defendants under which the defendants waived any claims for compensation and in return their convictions were vacated and the charges were dismissed. Frese, Vent and Pease were then released; Roberts had been released on parole in the summer of 2015. Roberts filed a civil rights lawsuit in Decemer 2015, claiming he had been coerced into waiving a claim for compensation.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 12/24/2015
Last Updated: 12/7/2017
State:Alaska
County:Fairbanks
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Assault
Reported Crime Date:1997
Convicted:1999
Exonerated:2015
Sentence:33 years
Race:Native American
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:19
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No