Setnencing / Post-Conviction

'Fairbanks Four' freed in teenager's 1997 murder

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An Alaska state court judge has vacated the convictions of four men in the 1997 murder of a Fairbanks teenager.

Three of the four men, known as the “Fairbanks Four,” were released after an unscheduled hearing Thursday on a settlement offer by the state. The fourth man was freed on parole earlier this year, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner and Courthouse News report.

Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle, who had presided over a five-week evidentiary hearing in the case earlier this fall, approved a deal under which the state agreed to dismiss all charges against the men, who, in turn, agreed to drop their claim of prosecutorial misconduct and to not sue the city or the state.

The four men, all Alaska Natives or American Indians, were convicted in the 1997 beating death of 15-year-old John Hartman, who was white. Many in the Alaska Native community believe that race played a role in the quick capture and prosecution of the defendants.

Lawyers for the four men challenged the validity of the evidence presented at their 1999 trials. They also presented evidence that Hartman was killed by four other teenagers.

Bill Oberly, CEO of the Alaska Innocence Project, which represented the men, told the News-Miner he was pleased with the outcome. “It was what we were looking for from the start.”

But Hartman’s older brother, Sean “Chris” Kelly, said he still believes the four men are guilty.

“I feel like my family is being wronged,” he said.

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