FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — A Fairbanks man convicted of killing a 15-year-old boy more than 15 years ago will get a chance to argue that he deserves a new trial.
The Alaska Court of Appeals ruled last fall that a lower court had improperly handled Eugene Vent’s claim that he had ineffective trial counsel, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. Prosecutors appealed the ruling to the Alaska Supreme Court, which announced April 11 that that it will not take on the case.
The case now goes back to the trial court, where Vent will receive a new hearing to determine whether he was adequately represented in his murder trial. A date has not been set yet for the post-conviction relief hearing.
Vent is one of the so-called “Fairbanks Four,” a group of men who were convicted of beating teenager John Hartman to death in 1997.
The four men — Vent, Marvin Roberts, Kevin Pease and George Frese — were all sentenced to serve between 33 to 79 years in a Colorado prison. All of them had pleaded not guilty.
The convictions were partially based on confessions from two of the defendants — including Vent, who was 17 years old at the time — who later recanted, KUAC reported.
Vent is arguing that his lawyer did not fulfill his duties because he did not persuade the trial judge to hear testimony from an expert on police interrogation tactics and false confessions. He says that he was convicted on a confession given during a police investigation, not physical evidence.
The hearing can lead to one of three outcomes, said April Monroe Frick, an advocate for the four men.
The court could rule that the attorney did err, but that it did not impact the final result of the trial; that the attorney was competent; or that the attorney erred and it did affect the outcome of the trial, in which case Vent would get a new trial.