The Latest: Brother of victim blasts decision to free men

AP News
|
Posted: Dec 17, 2015 10:03 PM

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — The latest in the case of the Fairbanks Four, or the four indigenous men convicted in the 1997 beating death of a teenager on a street in Fairbanks, Alaska. All times are local:

5:40 p.m.

The brother of a Fairbanks teenager killed in 1997 says he's flabbergasted at the deal reached Thursday that throws out the convictions of four indigenous men deemed responsible for the beating death.

Chris Kelly tells The Associated Press that he can't believe the deal was made between prosecutors and the men. Kelly says it feels like his family has been "completely wronged" by the agreement.

"Only guilty people would take that deal," Kelly said. He also voiced his objections at Thursday's hearing.

The four men have long maintained their innocence. They were seeking to have their convictions overturned in civil court when the state made a surprise offer to free them. In exchange, the men can't sue various government entities, among other provisions.

Many Alaska Natives believe the convictions of the four men were racially based.

5:30 p.m.

"Justice prevails!"

Those were the words from Alaska's senior U.S. senator after the so-called Fairbanks Four were released on Thursday.

The four men were convicted of beating a Fairbanks teenager to death in 1997, but many called their convictions a rush to judgment based on their race. Three of the men convicted are Alaska Natives and the other is an American Indian.

In a statement, Sen. Lisa Murkowski praised the lawyers that took up their case, including the Alaska Innocence Project.

Murkowski, a Republican, had previously asked the state of Alaska to examine whether the convictions were just. She also asked the U.S. Department of Justice to determine if there were any civil rights violations in the case.

___

5:15 p.m.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is hailing the agreement that will release the so-called Fairbanks Four, four indigenous men who have been imprisoned since their convictions in 1997 for the beating death of a Fairbanks teenager.

The four have long maintained their innocence. They were seeking to have their convictions overturned in civil court when the state made a surprise offer to free them. In exchange, the men can't sue various government entities, among other provisions. A state judge approved the deal Thursday, throwing out the men's murder convictions.

Some in the Alaska Native community had considered the convictions of the four men as racially based, and there had been pressure on Walker to pardon the men.

In a statement Thursday, Walker says he's pleased that a mutually acceptable agreement could be reached among all parties.

Walker says he hopes this beings the healing process and provides "some measure of justice and closure" for the four men.

___

4:45 p.m.

A judge in Alaska has approved terms of a settlement that throws out the convictions of four men in a 1997 beating death of a teenager in Fairbanks.

The so-called Fairbanks Four accepted the deal Thursday during a hearing in Fairbanks. One man has already been released on parole. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports (http://is.gd/cdv2Er) the deal calls for the release of the other three, and bars all four from suing government entities.

All four men have maintained their innocence in 15-year-old John Hartman's death.

Prosecutors made the surprise offer last week after previously defending the convictions. A judge then canceled a hearing over the proposed deal, saying it was unclear whether he had the authority to free the men without a pardon or clemency.

The deal comes as a judge considers a verdict in a separate civil action from the men seeking to have their convictions overturned. Alaska's governor also was considering a pardon.

___

3 p.m.

A closed hearing is underway in the case of four men convicted in the 1997 death of a Fairbanks teenager.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports (http://is.gd/MSRPHH ) that more than 150 people gathered Thursday outside a Fairbanks courtroom where an unscheduled hearing is taking place. The men and prosecutors in the so-called Fairbanks Four case have been working on a proposed deal to free them.

The three Alaska Native men and an American Indian have always maintained their innocence in the death of 15-year-old John Hartman. The proposed deal comes as a judge considers a verdict in a separate civil action from the men seeking to have their convictions overturned. Alaska's governor also is considering a pardon.

State prosecutors have vigorously defended the convictions, but they made the surprise offer to free the three remaining jailed men last week. In exchange, all four would not be allowed to sue government entities.