Updated on Dec. 17 at 8:40 p.m.
Known as the Fairbanks Four, a group of men convicted of murdering a teenager in 1997 will be freed from prison after a judge approved a settlement that throws out the charges against them.
According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle made his decision around 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, and ordered the three men still in custody — George Frese, Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent — to be taken to the Fairbanks Correctional Center and released there immediately. Marvin Roberts was already out on parole.
The settlement comes with several stipulations, including one preventing the four men from suing various governmental agencies for post-conviction relief. While the men will be considered innocent, they will not be able to seek monetary compensation for the 18 years spent behind bars.
Dozens of supporters waited for hours in the Fairbanks courthouse Thursday while the sealed, unscheduled hearing progressed.
“Could not have done it without the support for the community,” said Bill Oberly with the Alaska Innocence Project, which helped represent the four men. “This was an effort of all of Fairbanks and it was successful. Four innocent men now have convictions vacated and are free at last. I couldn’t be happier.”
Following their release, the four men, their families and their supporters gathered at the David Salmon Tribal Center to celebrate the decision and the men’s freedom.
“We’re still trying to process everything, but we’re home. We’re free,” Pease said at the gathering.
“I love you guys so much, everybody that stood there through all the hard times, the fights struggles… you guys never stopped supporting us,” Vent said to their supporters, thanking them.”It got us through the whole thing. Man, I didn’t expect it to be like this but I knew it would be awesome.”
“All of our prayers have been answered,” Frese said. “It’s simply amazing! It’s crazy, it’s like it never even happened but definitely feel the love. Love all you guys.”
Gov. Bill Walker, who had been considering a pardon prior to the announcement, released a statement regarding the decision:
“I’m pleased the State of Alaska Department of Law and legal counsel representing the Fairbanks Four, including the State of Alaska Office of Public Advocacy, agreed on a settlement that satisfied the court. I’m glad there was a process available to the Fairbanks Four where all involved could arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement. I hope this settlement helps to begin the healing process, and provides some measure of justice and closure for Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease, George Frese and Marvin Roberts as they return home to their families.”
Likewise, Sen. Lisa Murkowski voiced her approval on the release of the four men:
“I am pleased that the State of Alaska agreed to set aside the convictions of the Fairbanks Four based on the new evidence that has been developed and that Judge Lyle has accepted the settlement agreement today. I first took up the cause of the Fairbanks Four in 2013, asking the State of Alaska to take a hard look at whether their convictions were just. I concurrently asked the U.S. Department of Justice to examine whether the civil rights of the Fairbanks Four were violated. I commend UAF Journalism Professor Brian O’Donoghue for his dogged investigation and the outstanding attorneys of the Alaska Innocence Project and Dorsey & Whitney for their diligent representation. I also commend the members of the Fairbanks community who have stood vigil to ensure that the cause of the Fairbanks Four was not forgotten. Justice prevails!”
This is a developing story, please check back for updates. KTVA 11’s Daniella Rivera is on the ground in Fairbanks and will provide updates as they become available.