Fairbanks man pleads guilty to 2015 murder, conspiring to kill witness

 Hartman, as he appeared in court in Feb. 2019. Photo by KTVF in Fairbanks.
Hartman, as he appeared in court in Feb. 2019. Photo by KTVF in Fairbanks. (KTUU)
Published: Feb. 8, 2019 at 1:55 PM AKST
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A Fairbanks man pleaded guilty to murdering a man in 2015, as well as trying to organize the killing of another man, who prosecutors say planned to testify against him.

Steven John Hartman, 41, of Fairbanks, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the death of Ronald McKnight; he had also been charged with first-degree murder in the case. He also pleaded guilty to attempting to have another man killed for testifying against him.

The murder took place in December of 2015 in Fairbanks. According to charging documents in that case, Fairbanks Police Department officers found McKnight face down in a pool of blood on Dec. 10, his truck missing from the driveway, and valuables missing from his home.

Hartman reportedly killed McKnight while another man, Noah Griffith, was outside the home. When Griffith stated he would testify against Hartman, Hartman arranged from inside prison to have him killed.

The 2015 Crime

According to a December 2015 police report, McKnight was found with his face covered with a pillow.

A shot was fired through the pillow, striking him in the head, and staining the walls with blood, according to detectives who processed the scene.

Two witnesses told investigators that Hartman visited McKnight's house the night before he died. The man who discovered McKnight's body said he saw Hartman at the home on the day McKnight died.

Investigation at the murder scene revealed that a safe had been taken from McKnight's home, as well as other possessions, including multiple firearms.

The same witness said that McKnight had bought several guns from Hartman in the past, and that Hartman had borrowed money from McKnight.

Investigators then went to Hartman's house and spoke with a woman there who said he had given her a ride the morning of the murder, but surveillance footage disproved her claim.

Cellphone Evidence, And Witness Testimony

Hartman's phone was found, and authorities searched its contents, finding several texts between Hartman and another man, Noah Griffith, on the day Hartman was killed.

Those messages referenced the safe, and a reported plan they had in the works, in which Griffith was outside of McKnight's home for two nights in a row, waiting for McKnight to be home alone.

The two also talked about finding a safe, and that it wouldn't be bolted down.

Hartman also sent texts to other acquaintances saying he was waiting for "3 balls...3ozs," according to charging documents. Despite this, detectives said no drugs were found at McKnight's home.

Griffith was picked up by police, but initially declined to answer questions, making statements that "Hartman was like a father to him," according to police.

During a search of Griffith's residence, a cache of weapons was found, as well as the safe presumed to belong to McKnight.

Griffith told investigators that McKnight and Hartman had conducted drug deals in the past, primarily for methamphetamine.

He first claimed he was not at the home when McKnight was killed, but cell phone information proved he was present when the text conversation took place.

Testimony, And A Hired Murder Attempt

According to

, the district attorney said Hartman told Griffith he was going to rob McKnight, and might have to kill him.

After the two were arrested, Griffith agreed to testify against Hartman if his charges of accessory to murder were dropped.

While Hartman was in jail he attempted to arrange the murder of Griffith in retaliation for his willingness to testify, according to charging documents.

Hartman pleaded guilty to attempting to have Griffith killed, along with second-degree murder for the death of McKnight, in order to avoid the first-degree murder charge.

According to online court records, Hartman is scheduled to be sentenced on May 20, 2019.