Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

Leonard Peltier, Native activist imprisoned for nearly 50 years, faces what may be ‘last chance’ parole hearing

By 37ci3 Jun9,2024

Native American activist and federal prisoner Leonard Peltier, who maintains his innocence A full parole hearing is scheduled for Monday in the murders of two FBI agents nearly half a century ago — his First in 15 years — his supporters fear he may not get another chance at release.

A lawyer for Peltier, 79, said he was in “good spirits” as he prepared for the hearing at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida.

“He wants to go home and realizes this is probably his last chance,” said attorney Kevin Sharp. “But he feels good about presenting the best work he can.”

Sharp said medical and re-entry experts will be called in to support Peltier’s case for parole, and hearings examiners and the U.S. Parole Commission will receive letters from the community and prominent figures.

Including human rights and faith leaders for decades Pope Francis and Nobel Peace Prize laureates such as the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu supported Peltier’s release.

In addition to decades of research into how Peltier’s case was investigated and how his trial was conducted, Sharp believes his age, his lack of exposure to violence in prison, and his deteriorating health, including diabetes, hypertension, partial blindness from a stroke and a seizure from Covid, were factors. It shall be considered as the Commission determines parole eligibility.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons “isn’t saying he’s a threat,” Sharp said. “It’s about them getting enough punishment,” he said, adding the federal government’s resistance to Peltier’s previous offers of parole because the crime involved law enforcement officers.

At the parole hearing in 2009, a The FBI official argued it did not diminish the “brutality of the crimes” at the time, and although Peltier maintained his innocence, he “resorted to lies and half-truths to divert public attention from the facts.”

Parole for Peltier, who was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, would only encourage “disrespect for the law,” Justice Department officials said. he said on time.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement Friday that the agency was “resolute,” citing how Peltier’s appeals were denied and how he even escaped from a California prison in 1979 only to be captured three days later.

“We must never forget or set aside the fact that Peltier killed these two young men on purpose and never showed remorse for his brutal actions,” Wray said.


On June 26, 1975, FBI agents Jack Kohler and Ron Williams were on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to arrest a man on a federal warrant for stealing cowboy boots. agency investigative files.

While there, the couple radioed that they were under fire in a 10-minute shootout, the FBI said. Both men were killed by bullets fired at close range. Peltier is a member and later activist of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, officials said. American Indian Movementlocal indigenous rights group — was identified as the only person on the reservation who possessed a gun capable of firing the type of bullet that killed the agents.

However, dozens of people participated in the shooting; in court, two defendants were acquitted after claiming self-defense. When Peltier was tried separately in 1977, no witnesses were presented who could identify him as the shooter, and, unknown to defense attorneys at the time, the federal government had withheld a ballistics report showing that the fatal bullets did not come from his gun. according to Court documents filed by Peltier on appeal.

But the FBI maintained that his conviction was “properly and fairly obtained” and “has withstood multiple appeals to multiple courts, including the US Supreme Court.”

Still, other officials have supported him over the years. James Reynolds, a retired federal prosecutor who oversaw Peltier’s post-trial sentencing and appeals, He wrote a letter to President Joe Biden In 2021, he asked him to commute Peltier’s sentence because it would “serve the best interests of justice and the best interests of our country.”

“He served over 46 years on minimal evidence that I doubt would be upheld in any court today,” Reynolds said.

Peltier, a telephone interview with NBC News from prison He said he hopes mounting pressure from Democratic members of Congress in 2022 will convince Biden to grant him a pardon and possibly grant him a new trial to prove his innocence.

“I’ve got my last few years,” Peltier said, “and I’ve got to fight.”

Parole process

Peltier belongs to a small category of mostly elderly federal inmates who committed their crimes before November 1987 and can apply for parole from the Justice Department. Parole commission. Congress abolished federal parole under new sentencing guidelines for inmates convicted after that date.

The expert is responsible for reviewing the prisoner’s case and hearing witnesses at the hearing. The hearing examiner’s parole recommendation goes to at least one other examiner who is not present at the hearing, and the final decision rests with the parole commissioner, who is nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and may be a former expert. law enforcement officer, educator or lawyer.

If the parole commissioner agrees with the examiners’ recommendation, it becomes an official decision. However, if the first parole commissioner disagrees, the second parole commissioner must agree with either that commissioner or the examiners.

Berkeley law professor Charles Weisselberg, who has written about the commission’s “dysfunction,” said such a layered process could prove harmful to inmates if “the thread is lost.”

In addition, the Parole Board typically has five members, but since about 2018 has only had two, Weisselberg said.

The Senate did not move to fill the vacant seats of the commission. Weisselberg said that intentionally having fewer commissioners gives the hearing examiner “more power” and “as a practical matter, effectively eliminates the right to meaningful parole.”

Weisselberg suggested that the process could be simplified with a magistrate judge as arbitrator. The Parole Commission did not respond to a request for comment.

Peltier’s supporters are hoping for parole, but say Biden, who has not commented on the case, could still release him on compassionate grounds.

“Mr. Peltier deserves to live out the rest of his life outside of a federal prison cell,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., adding that “it is not too late to provide him with such a life for the rest of his life.” stole it.

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By 37ci3

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