All the best for the holidays and a healthy and happy New Year.
Please see the latest Editorial Essay #55. Introduction follows:
The purpose of this editorial essay is to provide a detailed summary of the critical witnesses against Peltier; those who placed him at the scene of the crime. (There will be no discussion concerning Peltier’s actual guilt, which has been extensively covered elsewhere and is beyond any doubt.) The witnesses are presented in the order of appearance at trial and the complete transcripts (approximately 493 pages) are available and linked as follows: Michael Anderson, Wilford Draper, Norman Brown and Angie Long Visitor.
Also included for reference are the government and defense summations and the government’s rebuttal.
During the course of Peltier’s five-week trial (Fargo, North Dakota, March-April 1977 before U.S. District Court Judge Paul Benson) there were many witnesses who provided sworn testimony regarding the investigation into the murders of Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams (Reservation Murders, or RESMURS) that occurred on the Jumping Bull property, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota on June 26, 1975.
The government’s evidence and testimony against Peltier covered a great many more details to support the elements of the charges against him, however, in this author’s opinion, the most critical evidence against Peltier was—in a manner of speaking—his own people, other Native Americans at Jumping Bull that day who helped provide the jury with a sense of the agents’ final moments.
Certainly, the government presented other significant evidence in addition to testimony from both sides that either supported or refuted statements made by the critical witnesses.
Peltier’s defense team had but one mission; to create within the jury’s mind that the government had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Peltier was afforded the presumption of innocence and the defense had to impeach those government witnesses who presented the most damaging testimony. Most of the critical witnesses were hostile (not totally cooperative to one side or the other, or sometimes both), and as noted below, some of the exchanges between the attorneys were contentious.
The jury was the trier of fact and it is not known what weight they ascribed to the testimony of each witness and whether the government or defense arguments to otherwise bolster or destroy the witnesses credibility was successful or not. But, in either instance, a few fundamental facts remained for the jurors to individually and collectively consider as they reached a unanimous decision concerning Peltier’s guilt.
However, in the end, the jury had to wade through a mire of often-conflicting testimony to determine the truth, as they perceived it. Sometimes those perceptions are indefinable, merely faint expressions or glimmers of truth or untruth, which they may not be able to articulate or explain but still provide a conscious recognition from each witness of the events of that day.
The jury’s decision, of course, along with the conduct and presentation of the government’s case and Peltier’s sentencing, led to numerous appeals so that every facet of the trial was ultimately analyzed in painstaking detail. The results of that voluminous and intense appellate review validated the jury’s finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The jury’s decision was final, but in the spirit of continuing debate it is now up to concerned readers to make their own judgment based on this review of the critical witnesses against Peltier.
“In the Spirit of Coler and Williams”