Friday, January 6, 2017


Dear Supporters:

What follows is an excerpt from a 2003 (fourteen years ago) NPPA Editorial Essay addressing public statements from Leonard Peltier and the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (LPDC). It is reprinted in response to Peltier’s recent comments about Judge Heaney and the letters he has written.

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Honorable Gerald W. Heaney, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals

Circuit Court Judge Gerald Heaney is truly a member of America's Greatest Generation. At the outbreak of World War II, as a young lawyer, he could have avoided the heat of battle and probably used his legal talents in a safe stateside assignment. Instead, he sought a U.S. Army commission and became a young infantry officer participating in the D-Day invasion and several significant battles leading to the end of war in Europe. His courage can be neither denied nor ignored.

Judge Heaney is a jurist of impeccable reputation and experience. His character is irreproachable and unquestioned, and we know this because of a very specific example from the Peltier case.

By way of brief background

Judge Heaney was a member of the court during a 1984 appeal and wrote a subsequent 1986 opinion denying Peltier's appeal based on the application the federal Brady and Bagley legal tests. This decision was the result of Freedom of Information Act material provided to Peltier that became the basis for a three-day evidentiary hearing (on ballistics evidence) in the district court in October 1984.

Throughout this period Judge Heaney obviously held some very strong feelings concerning the historically unfair treatment of Native Americans in general, and the government's handling of the events leading up to the take over of Wounded Knee (February 1973) and the later subsequent killing of the two FBI Agents in June 1975.

His feelings about these issues and the history of Peltier and related cases moved him to write an impassioned letter in April 1999 to U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye during the term of then President George H.W. Bush - this presumably when Judge Heaney was either retired from the bench or in senior status. This letter, along with a subsequent one to Senator Inouye dated October 24, 2000 (in which he reaffirms his previous letter), during the final weeks of the Clinton administration, were written not as an ordinary citizen, but on United States Court of Appeals stationary, making them at once, personal and official correspondence.

Judge Heaney's first letter listed several mitigating reasons why he believed Peltier should be afforded some consideration of leniency: "At some point, a healing process must begin," he said.

Judge Heaney added, "My thoughts on these other aspects result from a very careful study of the records..." but throughout this letter Judge Heaney never suggested that Peltier was innocent. Quite the contrary, he had this to say on the issue of Peltier's guilt:

"Third, the record persuades me that more than one person was involved in the shooting of the FBI agents. Again, this fact is not a legal justification for Peltier's actions, but is a mitigating circumstance." (Emphasis added)

Judge Heaney himself would be needed to expound on this point, whether he consider(ed) (the Honorable Judge Heaney has since passed away) the initial wounding of the agents as a factor or that three people (Peltier, Robideau and Butler) went down to the wounded agents, and one, or all three, murdered the agents at close range.

No doubt, as Judge Heaney has done throughout his judicial career, he will set aside personal feelings and made his decision based on the proper application of the law as he did in 1984 and 1986.

And apparently he did.

Denial by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals

In a unanimous decision, on December 12, 2002, the Court of Appeals, of which Judge Heaney was a member of the panel, denied Peltier's recent motion to reduce his sentence.

Peltier's attorney's arguments, as we have seen, were untimely at best and based on issues that had been previously argued and rejected by the courts, even to the extent that former AUSA Crooks quoted one of Judge Heaney's own decisions during the proceeding.

However, Peltier's attorney Eric Seitz of Honolulu angrily and publicly stated that this ruling was "a disgrace" and further proof that "nobody who seems to care about Leonard is in a position of responsibility or authority." (But, Mr. Seitz, someone most certainly is.)

Seitz added that he was not "...particularly optimistic that any of the judges now sitting have any compassion or willingness to do the right thing here." "They're inclined to let him rot in prison."

Seitz's last comment was directed at the U.S. Supreme Court, but by implication both comments are leveled squarely at the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Heaney.

Seitz would do himself and Peltier a service to remember that Judge Heaney was one jurist - "in a position of responsibility and authority" - who came down squarely on the side of Peltier, the Native American. Judge Heaney, as well as the other judges, saw the frivolousness of Seitz' arguments and ruled against Peltier based on the law.

Seitz can whine and complain and throw around typical Peltier camp rhetoric all he cares to, since he has foolishly ignored one man who has plenty of passion on this subject, Judge Heaney.

But thankfully, although abundantly passionate on the plight of Native Americans, Judge Heaney (was) a jurist of the highest caliber and knows that Seitz's legal arguments were flawed.

Yet Seitz, and those among the reenergized Peltier campaign, would want the Court of Appeals "to do the right thing here" and yield to passion in the face of frivolous legal maneuvers.

                Reenergized or not, the tune and tone of the "Until Justice is Won" campaign is still the same. Make as much noise as possible but stay away from the revealing legal history of the case.

“In the Spirit of Coler and Williams”
Ed Woods


During a later 60-Minutes interview Judge Heaney was asked if Peltier received a fair trial. His response, “He received a fair trial. Not a perfect trial, but a fair trial.”
For a thorough review of Judge Heaney's background, please see: