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Supporters in Fairbanks call on Gov. Walker to ‘Free the Four’

By Daniella Rivera Photojournalist: Emily Landeen - 10:16 PM December 11, 2015

Fairbanks Four supporters braved temperatures near -15 degrees Friday, calling on Governor Walker to “Free the Four.”

On a day they thought they would be celebrating the men’s freedom after 18 years, supporters of the Fairbanks Four rallied outside the Rabinowitz Courthouse in Fairbanks instead.

They held up signs calling for exoneration and chanted, “Free the Fairbanks Four!”

Judge Paul Lyle cancelled Friday’s hearing, which supporters believed would have released the Fairbanks Four, because he’s challenging the deal prosecutors offered the four men.

In order to go free, the settlement deal required Kevin Pease, George Frese, Eugene Vent, and Martin Roberts to withdraw their claims of innocence and agree not to sue for wrongful imprisonment. The four were convicted in the murder of 15-year-old John Hartman in 1997.

“They want to cover themselves,” Fairbanks Four supporter, Sherry Byers said. “The Police Department, lots of people have made huge huge mistakes and they’ve had egg on their face for a long, long time, and they know we all know it!”

Judge Lyle released an order saying he doesn’t believe he can legally release the men if they withdraw their claims of innocence, and Thursday gave attorneys on both sides 10 days to prepare an argument to convince him that the deal is legal.

Meanwhile, supporters gathered for a peaceful demonstration Friday to plead and pray for the four men to be at home this Christmas.

“For all that we thought was gonna happen that hasn’t happened yet, but will happen, we wait,” prayed retired St. Matthews Episcopalian Reverend Scott Fisher.

For the first time, demonstrators directly called on Alaska Gov. Bill Walker to intervene. “We voted you in, we can easily vote you out,” one protester yelled.

George Frese’s cousin, Misty Nickoli, had a message for the Governor, “We the people are the state of Alaska, you simply represent us and you need to gather your people and do the right thing. Today.”

Walker’s Office released a statement saying he is considering pardoning the four men. If he does, it will take 120 days before it goes into effect.

If a judge rules in favor of the four, the men could be out in 10 days.

Supporters argue the terms of the settlement indicate justice is not the Department of Law’s first priority.

“I don’t know why they’re so concerned about money,” said Connie Sommer, who’s supported the four for the last 18 years. “They have fought this issue for so long and it stems down to money. We can’t take money with us anywhere when we leave this earth.”

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