Dear President Obama:
Congratulations on your re-election and inauguration for your second term.
At some point during the next four years you may contemplate a clemency application from Leonard Peltier who will be asking for a commutation of his sentence.
As a citizen, veteran, and someone who admittedly has a vested interest in the outcome, and has followed the Peltier matter very closely since April 2000, I would offer the following for your consideration:
On June 26, 1975 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, while searching for a fugitive named Jimmy Eagle, FBI Agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams (driving in separate late model government vehicles), were taken under fire by Leonard Peltier and other members of the American Indian Movement (AIM). It was an unprovoked attack pinning both agents in a crossfire in an open field on the Jumping Bull farm. They were both mortally wounded. Then, according to trial testimony, evidence, and the government’s theory of the case accepted by the jury, Leonard Peltier summarily executed both agents with point-blank shots, destroying their faces. Their bodies were then moved (rolled over to face the ground), and their weapons stolen. Peltier and the others escaped; Peltier fleeing to Canada after a confrontation with an Oregon State Trooper. Peltier was extradited and convicted of murder and aiding and abetting in the murders of Coler and Williams and received two consecutive life sentences. His latest parole was denied in 2009 and extended to 2024. Parole is not a consideration at this time, only the possibility of clemency. (Footnote #1)
Motive and opportunity:
Motive: Aside from Peltier’s destructive and criminal activity while participating in several AIM anti-government actions, at the time of the Pine Ridge killings Peltier had absconded from bail for the attempted murder of an off-duty Milwaukee police officer. Peltier was later acquitted of that charge, however, a federal unlawful flight to avoid prosecution warrant had also been issued. Peltier knew he was a wanted fugitive at that time.
“Peltier had reason to believe that the agents (Coler and Williams) were looking for him, rather than Jimmy Eagle. He (Peltier) stipulated at trial that there was an arrest warrant outstanding, charging him with attempted murder. Upon his arrest in Canada months later for the murders of the agents, Peltier remarked that the two agents were shot when they came to arrest him. He also made other incriminating statements” (U.S. court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, 585 F.2d 314, 1978, U.S. Ap. Decision, September 14, 1978, Decided. p. 2)
Opportunity: After the agents were severely wounded, Coler’s arm nearly severed by a rifle bullet, and Williams wounded three times, Ron Williams took off his shirt and waived it as a white flag of surrender, to no avail, and crawled to his probably unconscious partner and used the shirt as a tourniquet around Coler’s mangled arm. Williams then waited for help to arrive (he had been broadcasting on the FBI radio for assistance before he was initially wounded), but then, according to testimony, Peltier and two others approached the severely wounded agents. Peltier had a choice to make, knowing that at least one of the wounded agents saw him and the others—and knowing that dead men make poor witnesses—both agents were shot in the face; Coler through the top of his head and then his jaw blown away, and Williams, who had raised his hand in defense, had his fingers blown through the back of his head: A cowardly and gruesome act indeed.
Peltier, or one of the others, then turned the mutilated bodies over to face the ground (in a gesture Peltier will have to explain, but has roots in Native American culture; that a vanquished enemy turned to face Mother Earth, will not meet his Creator in the afterlife). They then proceeded to ransack the vehicles and steal the agent’s weapons. This is what is known; a direct quote, beyond the trial record, from Peltier himself:
“I seen Joe (Stuntz) when he pulled it out of the trunk and I looked at him when he put it on, and he gave me a smile.” (Fn #2)
This is the scene; two dead human beings, federal agents, with their faces mutilated, surrounded by Peltier and other AIM members stealing their weapons, and one of them, Joe Stuntz, reaches into Agent Coler’s trunk, takes out the dead agent’s FBI raid jacket, puts it on, and gives Peltier a smile. The humor of Stunt’s grin at Peltier would be lost on any reasonable human being.
Conviction, Sentence and Appeals:
The fundamental facts of Peltier’s trial and conviction are self-evident and have withstood over three decades of intense scrutiny and review, several times through the court of appeals and twice reaching the U.S. Supreme Court. Peltier’s conviction and sentence have never been overturned.
Peltier claims there were “many Constitutional violations” in his case, the fact remains, there were none; otherwise, this would not be an issue today.
As for Peltier’s legal guilt, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals made it patently clear:
“…the direct and circumstantial evidence of Peltier’s guilt is strong…” (U.S. court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, 585 F.2d 314, 1978, U.S. Ap. Decision, September 14, 1978, Decided. p. 10)
Peltier was also later convicted for another serious felony (see below), (Fn 3).
Multiple discredited alibis:
If Peltier is innocent as he claims, his version of what happened that June day should have remained consistent over the years. Instead, he has offered a number of outrageous and unsubstantiated alibis. All these have been based on his premise that “I was the last Indian left to be railroaded for the deaths of their agents,” and that he is a “scapegoat” and a “political prisoner.” (Fn #4)
For the better part of two decades he claimed (both in writing and in a personal appearance in a film; Incident at Oglala) that someone the AIM members knew, but would not identify (“Mr. X”), was delivering dynamite to the AIM camp that morning and was the one who first engaged and then executed the agents (Fn #5). This fabrication was later publicly denounced by one of the key AIM members at Jumping Bull that brutal day (Dino Butler) and most recently repudiated by one of his own attorneys (Michael Kuzma). (Fn #6)
Peltier also claimed that the incident at Jumping Bull was a pre-planned government raid and that the agents were sent in to draw fire from the AIM members in the camp as “…scores, even hundreds, of FBI agents, federal marshals, BIA police, and GOONS, were all lying in wait in the immediate vicinity…” “…(to) pounce on the compound with massive force.” (Fn #7) This amounts to a totally outrageous, fabricated and unsubstantiated allegation in light of all the evidence presented against Peltier and years of judicial review.
Further, relating to a 1975 AIM inspired murder, at a trial in South Dakota in 2004 an AIM member, (one of those who escaped from Pine Ridge after the murders), testified under oath that Peltier described the murders of the agents (regarding Agent Williams) stating:
“...the m----------r was begging for his life but I shot him anyway.” (FN #8)
Peltier’s claims of innocence are weightless and embarrassingly devoid of substance.
Finances, the I.R.S. and alleged charitable activities:
For many years, and through two specific periods of time, Peltier has claimed that donations to his Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee-LPDOC (and formerly the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee-LPDC) were tax deductible and claimed 501(c)3 status as a non-profit, tax-exempt charity.
Peltier’s organization, a mechanism designed to collect donations, has also operated as a self-described (and illegal) Political Action Committee.
A review of I.R.S. records by the Pardon Attorney’s office will show, at a minimum, a series of letters of complaint about Peltier’s illegal and illicit fundraising activities and apparent actions taken by the I.R.S. to curtail those unlawful actions, because, Peltier has finally stopped making those claims.
Admittedly, Peltier is under no legal obligation to disclose the sources of the donations he receives or where any of the money went, however, by making himself a public figure as he has done, (and his constant barrage of pleas for funds), no accounting has ever been made. People in his own organization have called for transparency regarding his financial activities which have remained a closely guarded Peltier secret for many years. The point is, no one knows how much he has duped from gullible or well-meaning supporters or how that money has been spent.
During his trial (and along with the added great expense of daily transcripts) and throughout his appeals, his many attorneys were paid for at taxpayer expense. Since then his attorneys have acted pro-bono.
Charities and awards: Peltier has claimed to be responsible for many charitable activities that are conducted in his name and has allegedly received many valuable awards and recognition from various organizations. The truth is, however, little of his claims hold up to any scrutiny. For further details, please see the editorial essay entitled, Peltier Donations, Scam? Fraud? (Fn #9)
Prison record and armed escape:
Peltier’s prison record has been marginal at best, having been relegated to solitary confinement on a number of occasions for prison violations. This record is readily available to your office through the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
In 1979 Peltier was involved in an armed escape from Lompoc Federal Penitentiary during which shots were fired at prison guards and one of the escapees was killed. Peltier was captured, convicted and received an additional seven-year consecutive sentence for this crime.
Peltier’s justification for the escape was an alleged government conspiracy to “assassinate” him. (Fn #10)
Myth & Folklore:
Peltier has been somewhat successful in making himself into a victim and martyr. He has accomplished this by denigrating an otherwise proud Native American heritage by portraying himself as a brave warrior, who, in some perverse way, was defending his people with the cold-blooded, in-the-line-of-duty murder of two federal agents.
Peltier has consistently fabricated the factual record of his case; the actual record is available, unfiltered, through numerous court decisions. (Fn #11)
Peltier’s frequent post-conviction public statements only serve to further reinforce the courts’ decisions and his actual (moral) guilt. He has accepted absolutely no personal responsibility for the deaths of the agents (without preliminary excuses) and has persisted in trying to have it both ways; on the one hand that he is innocent, and on the other that there has been an elaborate governmental conspiracy by the FBI, Department of Justice, etc., and at every level of federal court that has reviewed his case.
Many of those who support Peltier do so out of a genuine concern for Native American history and rights, but regretfully very few have taken the time and effort to review the complete record or evaluate Peltier’s many alleged alibis and contradictory statements.
The myth and folklore surrounding Peltier has become legend but is devoid of the actual event and facts. (Fn #12)
Any thought of healing:
A free Peltier would do nothing to heal...the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of Native Americans do not support Peltier and have recognized that Peltier’s murderous actions, and those of AIM, contributed nothing to the healing process.
Rehabilitation; Not even close...a distant fallacy:
A critical element in consideration for clemency would certainly include the matter of rehabilitation. In order to unmistakably establish that the past thirty-six years of incarceration has not contributed in any manner to Peltier’s rehabilitation, your attention is drawn to this most telling public statement made by Peltier on February 6, 2010 (on the 34th anniversary of his arrest in Canada):
“I never thought my commitment would mean sacrificing like this, but I was willing to do so nonetheless. And really, if necessary, I’d do it all over again, because it was the right thing to do.” (Fn #13)
* * *
Yes, Mr. President, the cold-blooded murderer of two mortally wounded FBI agents, who will seek compassion from you and to be set free, actually said he would “do it all over again, because it was the right thing to do.”
Peltier has demonstrated a total disregard for the law and the sanctity of life, remains remorseless for his crimes, feigns innocence while fabricating alibis, blaming the entire government and court system for a global conspiracy, has shunned any semblance of rehabilitation, scammed an untold number of people for a fictitious cause based on fabrications and folklore, and denigrated an otherwise proud heritage for his own personal self-serving narcissism.
Of all the applications you may be called upon to consider, Leonard Peltier is the least deserving. His freedom would be an affront to every man and woman in this country who willingly place themselves in harms way to protect and serve the citizens of this nation against criminal elements.
“In the Spirit of Coler and Williams”
2) Peter Matthiessen, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (New York: Penguin Book. 1991) 552.
4) Leonard Peltier, Prison Writings (New York; St. Martin’s Press, 1999) 162-163. 140.
5) Incident at Oglala, the Leonard Peltier Story, dir. Michaet Apted, Prod. Robert Redford. (Carolco films 1988) Miramax Films release, 1992.
7) Peltier, p. 113-114, 127, 129.
8) Press Release, United States Attorney, District of North Dakota, (related to Peltier’s July 2009 denial of parole), August 21, 2009: In 2004 Arlo Looking cloud was tried in South Dakota for the late 1975 AIM related murder of Anna Mae Aquash. Witness Darlene Nichols testified that, in October or November of 1975, she was travelling in a motor home with Leonard Peltier, her husband, AIM leader Dennis Banks, Anna Mae Aquash, and others. On one occasion when they were in the State of Washington, Peltier admitted his involvement in the killings of the agents. Darlene Nichols testified that Leonard Peltier, “...started talking about June 26, and he put his hand like this and started talking about the two FBI agents...he said the
m----------r was begging for his life, but I shot him anyway..” http://www.noparolepeltier.com/usapressrelease.pdf
10) Peltier, p.164-167