For Immediate Release
After Almost 40 Years, It Is Time to Release Indigenous Leader Leonard Peltier
Ann Cavanough-Smith firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-407-3225
Free Leonard Peltier Coalition (creatingjustce.net)
Dr. Michael D’Andrea email@example.com 808-391-0508
Free Leonard Peltier Coalition (creatingjustice.net)
President of the Social Justice Creations Website Inc.
Executive Director of the National Association for Multicultural Competence (NIMC)
The life of Leonard Peltier hangs in the balance after almost 40 years of imprisonment for a crime he did not commit. Will Leonard’s freedom come when he is placed into a pine box?
Leonard Peltier is an Anishinabe-Dakota Native American and a leader in the American Indian Movement (AIM). He was arrested in 1976 and wrongly convicted of alleged crimes in 1977.
Leonard has been imprisoned in maximum security federal prisons in connection with the deaths of two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, during a confrontation involving almost 40 women, children, and AIM members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in June 1975. While he admits to being present during the incident, Leonard Peltier has always denied any complicity in the deaths of the FBI agents as falsely alleged by the prosecution at his trial.
Given the withholding of thousands of pages of documents that represent substantial evidence in proving Leonard Peltier’s innocence, the use of fabricated evidence by the FBI in his 1976 extradition proceedings in Canada, and the refusal by the court to allow a key witness for the defense to testify in Leonard’s court hearing, Mr. Peltier was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the deaths of the two FBI agents in 1977.
Knowing that Leonard Peltier has spent almost four decades locked behind 20 foot cement walls and rolling razor wire in an iron cage as well as the serious concerns about the fairness of his 1976 extradition from Canada, proof of fraudulent evidence presented by the FBI, the refusal of the court to allow testimony from a key defense witness, and the continued refusal of the U. S. Government to release thousands of documents highly relevant to his unjust trial and conviction, it is indeed time for authorities in the United States to release Leonard Peltier.
Leonard’s most recent petition for release on parole was denied by the pardon board in 2009. He will not be eligible for parole again until 2024 when he will be 80 years old. Leonard Peltier is now 71 and after 39+ years in prison he is experiencing several serious health problems.
Having studied the case extensively over many years, the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (ILPDC) remains seriously concerned about the fairness of proceedings leading to his conviction. More specifically, the ILPDC has learned about the existence of evidence that is damaging to the prosecution’s case. This damaging evidence was withheld in Leonard’s court hearing which demonstrates how the FBI used fraudulent evidence that substantially contributed to Leonard’s prosecution.
Additional factors related to the injustice of his wrongful conviction include the following:
- Questions about the evidence presented that falsely linked Leonard Peltier to the deaths of the two FBI agents.
- The illegal coercion of an alleged eye-witness, who suffered from serious and chronic mental illness. The FBI pressured Myrtle Poor Bear to say that she was Leonard’s girlfriend, that she was at the shootout, and that she saw Leonard Peltier shoot the agents. Later, she retracted her testimony explaining the specific methods the FBI used to intimidate her into signing fraudulent affidavits. Furthermore, Myrtle Poor Bear was not allowed to be called as a key defense witness at Leonard Peltier’s trial.
- The withholding of evidence by the prosecution at trial, including key ballistics evidence that represented additional evidence of Leonard Peltier’s innocence.
Over the years, substantial alarm about the case has been expressed by numerous persons directly involved in the legal proceedings that resulted in the wrongful guilty judicial findings. Among the most significant issues of great concern include:
- “We recognize that there is some evidence in this record of improper conduct on the part of some FBI agents, but we are reluctant to impute even further improprieties on them.” This statement was made by Judge Gerald Haney despite the fact that he denied Leonard’s motion for a new trial.
- Furthermore, Judge Gerald Heaney expressed his deep concerns about Leonard Peltier’s case in a letter to the Senator Daniel Inouye, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs in 1991. Judge Heaney expressed his strong belief that: “the FBI used improper tactics in securing Peltier’s extradition from Canada where Leonard had fled following the shootings and in otherwise investigating and trying the Peltier case.” He added: “Although our Court decided that these actions were not grounds for reversal, they are, in my view, factors that merit consideration in any petition for leniency filed.”
Recognizing all of the unresolved concerns described above, the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (ILPDC) has urged US authorities to release Leonard from prison in the interests of justice and on humanitarian grounds.
Leonard Peltier was a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), an activist group involved in promoting the rights of “traditionalist” Native Americans during a period of intense conflict in the 1970s. In the two years prior to the confrontation in which the two FBI agents were shot, more than 60 Native Americans on the Pine Ridge reservation had been killed, allegedly by paramilitary squads supported by the U. S. Government and connected to the tribal government, without anyone being brought to justice for these murders. American Indian Movement (AIM) members were urged by the “traditionalists” opposing the tribal government who were also threatened. Relations between AIM and the FBI were extremely tense at the time, with accusations that the governmental authorities and members of the tribal government had not done enough to protect those at risk on the reservation.
The confrontation which resulted in the deaths of two FBI agents took place, after the agents in an unmarked car drove onto the reservation in pursuit of a Jimmy Eagle. Mr. Eagle allegedly had a warrant out for his arrest over a stolen pair of cowboy boots. According to FBI documents, the agents spotted Jimmy Eagle and two other males in the red pickup truck. The agents then proceeded to drive onto an area where men, women, children, and AIM members were camped; a firefight ensued. Evidence was presented at the trial to show that the FBI agents received multiple shots. A Native American Indian named Joe Stuntz was shot by what appeared to be sniper fire resulting in his murder. Two AIM members were initially charged with the agents’ deaths, tried separately and found not guilty because of self-defense.
The jury acquitted these two AIM members after hearing evidence about the atmosphere of violence and intimidation on the reservation and concluded that, they were acting in self- defense when they were involved in the exchange of gunfire.
Following their acquittal, the FBI renewed its efforts to pursue Leonard Peltier, securing his extradition from Canada in 1976 by using a fraudulent affidavit thus securing his extradition from Canada. . At his trial, the prosecution alleged that the rifle which killed the agents belonged to Leonard Peltier. During post-trial investigations, the defense team discovered a telex message suggesting that the rifle in question contained a firing pin that was too badly damaged after it was recovered from the one used to kill the agents. Consequently, the test whether the rifle in question was the one used to shoot the FBI agents was officially determined to be inconclusive.
This important evidence was raised on appeal and an evidentiary hearing held that the significance of the telex was appropriately contested by the government. On Leonard’s appeal, the government also argued that sufficient evidence had been presented to the jury at trial to show that Leonard Peltier had “aided and abetted” the killings even if he had not been the actual killer.
Given the substantial form of FBI coercion of witnesses, the FBI’s use of fraudulent affidavits, and other forms of injustice that resulted in the wrongful conviction of Leonard Peltier, millions of persons world-wide as well as numerous nationally and internationally well-respected individuals and organizations have directed their support for Leonard’s freedom. Amnesty International has listed
Leonard Peltier is a political prisoner who continues to be unjustly imprisoned in a maximum security prison in Coleman Prison (Florida).
Calls for justice in Leonard’s case and support for his release from prison have been publicly acknowledged by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Congress of American Indians, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Rev. Jesse Jackson to name a few.
Leonard’s attorneys are currently preparing a legal request for clemency urging the white house for the president to grant executive clemency.
For more information Visit the:
The Free Leonard Peltier Coalition link on at creatingingjustice.net