Leonard Peltier, sentenced to 2 life phrases 45 years in the past within the taking pictures of two F.B.I. brokers, is now 77 and sick.
WASHINGTON — Since 1977, Leonard Peltier, a Native American activist, has been serving two life sentences in federal jail for his function within the killings of two F.B.I. brokers throughout a shootout in 1975 on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota — a punishment that his supporters have lengthy held was the product of an unfair prosecution and a flawed trial.
Now his backers, together with members of Congress, are making what they contemplate a last-ditch effort to win clemency for Mr. Peltier, who’s 77 and affected by diabetes, hypertension, partial blindness from a stroke, and an aortic aneurysm. Mr. Peltier, whom many Native American activists contemplate a political prisoner, additionally not too long ago examined constructive for the coronavirus.
Efforts to overturn his conviction through the years have failed, as have campaigns for a pardon or commutation of his sentence. Presidents Invoice Clinton and Barack Obama each left workplace with out appearing on pleas to grant him clemency, Mr. Clinton after tons of of former and present F.B.I. brokers angrily marched to the White Home to protest his contemplating such a transfer and the bureau’s director on the time made his opposition clear.
Consultant Raúl M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, has despatched letters to the White Home on Mr. Peltier’s behalf, together with one final month after he examined constructive for Covid-19. That letter was signed by eight different members of Congress. Mr. Peltier’s lawyer can be pursuing the difficulty via the common clemency course of on the Justice Division.
It’s not clear whether or not President Biden would contemplate the clemency request. The White Home didn’t reply to a request for remark. The F.B.I. declined to touch upon whether or not it will now oppose commuting Mr. Peltier’s sentences.
Mr. Peltier’s battle for freedom has lengthy drawn assist from international activists and celebrities, together with Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and the actors Robert Redford and Danny Glover.
Alli McCracken Jarrar, a human rights campaigner with Amnesty Worldwide, mentioned the group had campaigned for Mr. Peltier’s launch for years, hoping to undo what the group thought of an abuse of the legal justice system.
“For the final 44 years, distinguished people and distinguished organizations have referred to as on president after president to grant him clemency,” she mentioned. “It’s lengthy overdue for him to be given clemency, so he can stay the remaining years of his life together with his group.”
Mr. Peltier grew up on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota; members of the tribe say they’ll handle him if he’s launched.
The lethal confrontation that put Mr. Peltier in jail befell at a ranch on the Pine Ridge reservation, about 10 miles from Wounded Knee, the place U.S. troopers had massacred tons of of unarmed Lakota almost a century earlier.
Native American activists returned to occupy the village throughout a drawn-out protest in 1973, in hopes of forcing the federal authorities to analyze what they mentioned was corruption within the management of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, treaty violations and issues with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Two F.B.I. brokers, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, died within the shootout. One of many activists was additionally killed, however his dying was by no means investigated.
Mr. Peltier belonged to the American Indian Motion, which sought to attract consideration to federal violations of Native American treaty rights; he was discovered responsible of the killings in 1977 and has since been in federal jail, presently in Florida.
He has admitted to collaborating within the shootout in self-defense, however says he didn’t kill the brokers. He and his supporters additionally say that F.B.I. brokers coerced witnesses, and that prosecutors withheld exculpatory proof whereas extraditing Mr. Peltier from Canada and making an attempt him in North Dakota.
Mr. Peltier’s arrest got here at a time of intense unrest on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
On Feb. 27, 1973, Oglala Lakota activists and members of the American Indian Motion seized management of Wounded Knee to attract consideration to the federal authorities’s violations of the treaty rights and a tribal president accused of corruption and aligning with the federal authorities.
The ensuing 71-day armed battle between Native People and federal regulation enforcement at Wounded Knee left two activists lifeless, and a federal agent shot and paralyzed.
Even after the siege, battle on the Pine Ridge Reservation continued. Murders had been frequent, and the federal and tribal police forces on the reservation behaved like a paramilitary pressure. Then got here the shootout on the Pine Ridge reservation in 1975, the place the 2 F.B.I. brokers and a Native American activist had been killed, ensuing finally within the expenses in opposition to Mr. Peltier and two others implicated within the deaths of the brokers.
Mr. Peltier’s co-defendants had been discovered not responsible of murdering the brokers after they argued self-defense. They had been tried in Iowa, whereas Mr. Peltier was tried in North Dakota, the place the decide blocked some proof that was allowed within the Iowa case.
Years of appeals have poked holes within the authorities’s case in opposition to him, Mr. Peltier’s supporters say.
His conviction rests solely on the truth that he was current on the shootout with a weapon that day — not that he fired a deadly shot or had any hand in killing anybody, mentioned James Reynolds, a former U.S. legal professional in Iowa whose predecessor, Evan Hultman, dealt with the unique prosecution of Mr. Peltier.
Mr. Reynolds is amongst those that have lobbied for Mr. Peltier’s launch, writing letters to each the Obama and Trump administrations. He mentioned that, whereas the U.S. Courtroom of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit discovered Mr. Peltier had a good trial, he now not believed that to be the case.
“How a lot stuff does he must have on his aspect earlier than you say sufficient is sufficient,” Mr. Reynolds mentioned. “They’ve been preventing this factor for greater than 40 years and it appears unlucky that is the federal government place.”
Kevin Sharp, Mr. Peltier’s lawyer, mentioned granting him clemency could possibly be a significant step towards therapeutic the rift between Native People and the federal authorities.
“The vital factor is breaking from the previous,” Mr. Sharp mentioned. “The F.B.I. will say they’re now not the J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I. I consider them after they say that. However in case you actually need to break from the J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I., they should launch this prisoner.”
Ruth Anna Buffalo, a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, and a state consultant in North Dakota, was amongst two dozen Native American state legislators who signed a letter to Mr. Biden in October requesting clemency of Mr. Peltier.
She mentioned the president had but to incorporate Native People in his administration’s efforts to overtake features of the federal justice system. Granting clemency to Mr. Peltier could be a step in the precise route, she mentioned.
“We’re not asking for particular therapy,” Ms. Buffalo mentioned. “We’re asking to be handled as human beings. None of us are free till Leonard is free.”