What others say: Pay dividends to the Fairbanks Four

  • By Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial
  • Wednesday, April 25, 2018 9:26pm
  • Opinion

About 40 protesters assembled at Golden Heart Plaza on Saturday to demand the Alaska Senate pass House Bill 127. The bill would return 18 Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend payments to the men known as the Fairbanks Four. The bill would do the same for people who might find themselves in a similar situation in the future.

The protest brings the bill back into focus after sitting in the Senate State Affairs Committee for almost a year. The House showed overwhelming support for HB 127 and passed it with a 38-1 vote in April 2017.

The Fairbanks Four are Eugene Vent, Marvin Roberts, George Frese and Kevin Pease. They were convicted of the murder of Fairbanks teenager John Hartman in 1997. The Fairbanks Four eventually teamed up with the Alaska Innocence Project to review their case. Then, in 2015, a superior court judge held a monthlong evidentiary hearing that challenged many of the facts that led to their convictions.

After the hearing, the Fairbanks Four and state prosecutors reached a settlement. Their convictions were vacated and their indictments were dismissed, too. The agreement that helped them get out of jail after 18 years of incarceration also prevents them from being able to sue the state for damages.

State law disqualifies a person from receiving a permanent fund dividend if that person spent any amount of time in that year incarcerated for a felony. HB 127 would require the state to pay a retroactive dividend to a person whose conviction was vacated or reversed; the person is retried and found not guilty; or if all charges on which the conviction is based are dismissed.

If the bill were to pass, the Fairbanks Four would receive about $103,000 split between each of them.

The bill is rational, fair and has a relatively small impact on the budget since these situations are rare. So why is the State Affairs Committee holding the bill?

Earlier this month, Sen. John Coghill, who represents constituents in Fairbanks and North Pole and is a member of the State Affairs Committee, said he had not even reviewed the bill. He said he was hesitant to support HB 127. He said the bill is logical, yet he said it is probably wrong to award the Fairbanks Four their dividends. He argues that this would go back on the agreement they signed — to not seek damages — in order to get out of prison.

Sen. Coghill should reconsider his stance. This bill is not about awarding damages. There is no sentence in the bill saying the state of Alaska acknowledges wrongdoing. It does not award the Fairbanks Four any more money than other Alaskans who received a dividend check during that same time period. The bill simply provides a back payment for a handout the Fairbanks Four would have been, and should have been, entitled to receive.

The bottom line is Mr. Vent, Mr. Roberts, Mr. Frese and Mr. Pease are every bit entitled to the dividend as our senators are. It’s time to pass HB 127 and pay the Fairbanks Four their dividends.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

April 24

More in Opinion

Charlie Franz.
Point of View: Election integrity is not anti-democratic

The federalization of elections by the Freedom to Vote Act infringes on the constitutional right of states to regulate elections.

Snow blows off Mt. Roberts high above the Thane avalanche chute, where an avalanche blew across the road during a major snowstorm. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
An Alaska winter of discontent

It’s been a hard winter throughout the state.

A Uncruise Adventures cruise ship, with a fleet of kayaks in the water behind it, in the Tongass National Forest. Uncruise, a boutique local cruise ship operator, has been vocal about the importance of the intact Tongass National Forest, or SeaBank, to its business. (Photo by Ben Hamilton/courtesy Salmon State)
Alaska Voices: The dividends paid by Southeast Alaska’s ‘Seabank’ are the state’s untold secrets

Southeast Alaska’s natural capital produces economic outputs from the seafood and visitor products industries worth several billion dollars a year

Opinion: The pulse of fealty

Let’s be honest. Trump’s demands go beyond his one stated condition.

Former Gov. Frank Murkowski speaks on a range of subjects during an interview with the Juneau Empire in May 2019. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Alaska Voices: Permanent fund integrity in peril?

Alaskans need to be kept informed of what the trustees are doing with their money.

A cast member holds up a cue card in Soldotna High School’s production of "Annie" on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Is theater dead?

“It will not be an easy task, performing CPR on this theater, but imagine the joy that you could bring to the students.”

Bjørn Olson (Photo provided)
Point of View: Homer Drawdown moves forward with climate-change solutions

Two years ago, a small group of concerned citizens decided to use this book as a guiding document

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21 in Kenai, Alaska.
Voices of the Peninsula: Fight for democracy

When the Insurrection occurred on Jan. 6, 2021, it was a direct attack on our democratic rule of law.

Most Read