Federal judge hears arguments in Fairbanks Four lawsuit
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — A federal judge has heard arguments on whether a lawsuit should proceed against Fairbanks and a group of former police officers in their handling of a case that resulted in four men spending nearly two decades in prison before their convictions were overturned.
Attorneys representing the city and former Fairbanks officers argued Wednesday for the dismissal of the wrongful imprisonment suit, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported .
George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent were convicted of second-degree murder but maintained their innocence in the 1997 killing of 15-year-old John Hartman. Their convictions were vacated in December 2015 after they reached a settlement with the state, agreeing not to sue government entities.
The deal came after defense attorneys argued new evidence proved the men were innocent.
They claim the agreement that led to their release from prison is not legally binding because they were coerced.
A former criminal defendant can’t sue his prosecutors unless his conviction is “favorably terminated” in one of four ways outlined in case law, argued Matthew Singer, the attorney representing the city. A negotiated settlement is not one of the ways, he said.
“The case should be dismissed because it depends on the invalidity of the conviction,” Singer said. “The convictions were not set aside by innocence but rather by an agreement that there was evidence that would warrant a new trial.”
Attorney Anna Benvenutti Hoffmann argued her clients are allowed to sue because the rules established in case law are intended to prevent convicted people from working around the criminal court and the appeals process by civil lawsuits. Her clients are no longer convicted so they can sue, she said.
“It is not a bar in any way to this wrongful conviction suit, because as everyone in Alaska knows, they were exonerated,” Hoffmann said. “They were let out based on evidence of innocence. They’re not in prison anymore. They’re not treated as felons by the state of Alaska anymore.”
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com