The city mayor of Fairbanks has expressed concern over the Fairbanks Police Department’s handling of information in the “Fairbanks Four” murder case, calling on FPD to “accept responsibility” for the mistake.
In a Wednesday statement, John Eberhart lends official weight to new details on the sequence of events nearly three years ago in which FPD was notified of a confession by California inmate William Holmes that he and four other people had killed Jonathan Hartman in 1997.
The Alaska Innocence Project, which has been working to prove that Marvin Roberts, Eugene Vent, George Frese and Kevin Pease were wrongly convicted in Hartman’s death, announced in September that it received an August 2012 letter from Holmes. Eberhart’s statement, however, confirms an AIP filing which claims the initial confession occurred even earlier.
“In December 2011 the City of Fairbanks Police Department (FPD) received a fax from a prison guard in California that included a statement from an inmate regarding the John Hartman murder,” Eberhart wrote.
Eberhart’s statement also addresses FPD's chain of custody for the information relayed from California, which court documents say involved California Department of Corrections Capt. Michael McNair contacting FPD Lt. Dan Wellborn by phone and fax.
Wellborn then relayed the information to the Fairbanks district attorney’s office as well as Detective Christopher Nolan, who followed up with McNair. Nolan later said he didn’t interview anyone, however, because he wasn’t involved with the Hartman case and would have had to review the entire case file.
“The fax was discussed with the District Attorney’s Office and FPD assigned an investigator to the matter,” Eberhart wrote. “The investigator contacted the Captain at the facility who faxed the statement but there was no follow-up with the Correctional Officer who gave the statement.”
In his statement, Eberhart says more should have been done at the time.
“I have confidence in our Police Department, however, when mistakes are made we must accept responsibility for them,” Eberhart wrote. “I am disappointed that the police department did not promptly further investigate this matter.”
State Deputy District Attorney Adrienne Bachman has been assigned to conduct a full review of the Hartman investigation, which Eberhart believes will produce “a thorough report of this case.”
“The truth is what must come out of this review, for the men incarcerated and for John Hartman,” Eberhart wrote.
Eberhart’s office said Wednesday that he was out of town until Monday, and unavailable for comment on his statement.