‘I can’t believe they’re free’: John Hartman’s brother speaks out on release of Fairbanks Four
Chris Kelly says one of the hardest things for him to accept right now is that prosecutors have told him there’s no doubt in their minds the men known as the “Fairbanks Four” killed his brother, 15-year-old John Hartman. Yet they made a deal with them and set them free, and police have stopped investigating.
He said it’s hard to find closure when no one is being held accountable for his brother’s murder in 1997.
“They’re dangerous men. They’re dangerous people,” he said in his first on camera appearance since Attorney General Craig Richards vacated the murder convictions of Marvin Roberts, George Frese, Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent.
Kelly said before the murder, he knew one of the four.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Well if you knew him, then you know he couldn’t have done this thing,’ and I’m like, ‘No, I knew him, so I know he could have,'” Kelly explained.
Kelly once served time for his own crime at the same facility as the Fairbanks Four.
“They would flip me off and mouth f*** you to me,” he said. He also claims one night, Vent apologized to him. “He was like, ‘We didn’t know it was your younger brother.'”
He said he’s in disbelief that they’re free now, and said he feels the system has wronged him.
“Over six months ago, they told me about that deal and they asked me and John’s father, ‘Hey, what do you think? We’re thinking about doing this. Would you accept that?’ and I said, ‘No, I wouldn’t,’ because I want the people that did it to take responsibility for what they did,” he said.
The deal went through anyway — the Attorney General has the power to vacate sentences.
“There shouldn’t have been any way to possibly influence the judicial system politically,” Kelly said, but he thinks that’s exactly what happened. “That’s what I was told. They made the deal with them, not because they think that they’re innocent, but because they didn’t want to continue.”
Kelly said the state caved under political pressure, and what little justice he had has been taken from him.
“I feel like there’s a lesson here that I’m supposed to be looking for, or something that God is trying to teach me, and I’m still looking for it,” he explained.
In an interview Saturday, Fairbanks Police Chief Randall Aragon said the investigation into John Hartman’s death is closed unless a new, viable lead is uncovered. He also said he’s relieved that the settlement keeps the four from suing the city, the state and his department.
The mayor of Fairbanks held a press conference Wednesday morning to update the community on how they’re moving forward, and because Chief Aragon wants to clarify some of the statements he’s made.
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