Dec 01, 2021
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy has become the most senior U.S. government official to support the release of American Indian Movement militant Leonard Peltier, who supporters say was framed and falsely convicted of murdering two federal agents during a 1975 reservation shootout.
HuffPostreported Tuesday that Leahy (D-Vt.)--the Senate's president pro tempore who will retire after this term as the chamber's longest-serving member--responded affirmatively when the outlet asked if it was time to free Peltier.
Peltier, now 77 years old, admits to having participated in the June 26, 1975 gunfight at the Oglala Sioux Reservation at Pine Ridge, South Dakota but denies killing Federal Bureau of Investigation agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams.
\u201cNEW: Patrick Leahy, the longtime former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman + longest-serving sitting U.S. senator, says it's time for Native American activist Leonard Peltier to go home after 44 years in prison. https://t.co/jrNBVJ6uS6\u201d— Jennifer Bendery (@Jennifer Bendery) 1638313900
From the time Canada granted a fraudulent U.S. extradition request for Peltier in 1976, his case has been marred by improprieties.
Senior HuffPost reporter Jennifer Bendery writes:
Peltier has been in prison for 44 years for a crime he says he didn't commit. His trial was riddled with misconduct. Prosecutors hid key evidence. The FBI threatened and coerced witnesses into lying. A juror admitted she was biased against Peltier's race on the second day of the trial but was allowed to stay on anyway.
There was never proof that he killed two FBI agents in a 1975 shootout on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. But the FBI needed someone to take the fall. It had just lost two agents, and Peltier's co-defendants were all acquitted on grounds of self-defense. His trial was also happening as the FBI was trying to suppress the activities of the American Indian Movement (AIM), a grassroots group of activists focused on drawing attention to federal treaty rights violations, discrimination, and police brutality targeting Native Americans.
AIM activist Joe Stuntz Killsright was also killed at Pine Ridge when a U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs agent sniper shot him in the head after Coler and Williams were killed. Stuntz' death has never been investigated.
Peltier was found guilty and given two consecutive life sentences. Now in poor health, he is often referred to as America's longest-incarcerated political prisoner. Hundreds of thousands of people--including the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Coretta Scott King, John Lewis, and Nelson Mandela--and numerous advocacy groups have called for his release over the years.
\u201cDear @POTUS @JoeBiden, please release this man. This is another injustice in a long line of injustices brought down on our Native Family here in the USA. https://t.co/X6fmIrUee3\u201d— Mark Ruffalo (@Mark Ruffalo) 1637794580
Both the Canadian solicitor-general at the time of Peltier's extradition and the U.S. federal prosecutor who helped convict him have also pleaded for his freedom.
"I write today from a position rare for a former prosecutor: to beseech you to commute the sentence of a man who I helped put behind bars," former U.S. Attorney James Reynolds wrote to President Joe Biden earlier this year. "With time, and the benefit of hindsight, I have realized that the prosecution and continued incarceration of Mr. Peltier was and is unjust. We were not able to prove that Mr. Peltier personally committed any offense on the Pine Ridge Reservation."
Successive presidential administrations have declined to free Peltier, although he and his advocates are hopeful that could change under President Joe Biden. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland--the first Native American Cabinet secretary--advocated for Peltier's release due to the Covid-19 pandemic while she was serving in the House of Representatives last year.
\u201c#LeonardPeltier\u2018s \u201cDay of Mourning Statement\u201d\u2665\ufe0f\n\n\u201cGreetings Relatives,\n\nEach year as November nears I try to think back on all that has happened in my world in the past 12 months. And I know that in my world I can only see a very small part\u2026\u201d\n\n#FreeLeonardPeltier\n\n@SecDebHaaland\u201d— Free Leonard Peltier (@Free Leonard Peltier) 1637873555
"I still hold out hope that I can make it home to Turtle Mountain while I can still walk out under my own power," Peltier wrote in a statement last week. "I remain grateful for the gift of life."
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