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The FBI Says It Nonetheless Opposes Leonard Peltier’s Freedom. Its Argument Is Full Of Holes.

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The FBI Says It Nonetheless Opposes Leonard Peltier’s Freedom. Its Argument Is Full Of Holes.


It’s not every single day that you just ask the federal Workplace of the Pardon Lawyer a routine query in regards to the standing of a prisoner’s petition for clemency and get a response from the FBI.

However that’s what occurred when HuffPost just lately requested for an replace on a petition for clemency for Leonard Peltier, the Native American rights activist who has been in jail for 46 years without any evidence that he committed a crime and after a trial riddled with misconduct.

HuffPost has been reporting on Peltier’s imprisonment for months, and we emailed the Workplace of the Pardon Lawyer late final month to see if a clemency petition filed in July by Peltier’s lawyer has moved alongside within the assessment course of. The FBI unexpectedly wrote again. It despatched over a press release saying it strongly opposes clemency for Peltier:

The FBI stays resolute in opposition to the commutation of Leonard Peltier’s sentence for murdering FBI Particular Brokers Jack Coler and Ronald Williams at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. We should always remember or put apart that Peltier deliberately and mercilessly murdered these two younger males and has by no means expressed regret for his ruthless actions.

Peltier’s conviction, rightly and pretty obtained, nonetheless stands, and has withstood quite a few appeals to a number of courts, together with the U.S. Supreme Court docket. No quantity of jail time adjustments the details surrounding Coler and Williams’ deaths and commuting Peltier’s sentence now would solely serve to decrease the brutality of his crime and the struggling of their surviving households and the FBI household.

Getting previous the strangeness of the FBI responding to an electronic mail not directed to the FBI, it was one thing to get a press release from the FBI in any respect. The company has beforehand declined remark to HuffPost about Peltier.

It was, in any case, the FBI that fought to place Peltier in jail within the first place after two of its brokers had been killed in a 1975 shootout on Pine Ridge Reservation. Its new assertion affirms that it nonetheless needs the now-ailing 77-year-old to remain there, despite decades of outcry from worldwide human rights leaders, together with Pope Francis, Nelson Mandela, Mom Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Coretta Scott King. That’s along with appeals by U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), members of the U.S. Home, Native American leaders, celebrities and others.

Opposition from the FBI stays the largest impediment to freedom for Peltier, who is taken into account by many to be America’s longest-serving political prisoner. The issue with the bureau’s argument for maintaining Peltier in jail, although, is that it is filled with holes.

Nearly each sentence of the FBI’s assertion is outdated, deceptive or flat-out mistaken.

Take the primary line: “The FBI stays resolute in opposition to the commutation of Leonard Peltier’s sentence for murdering FBI Particular Brokers Jack Coler and Ronald Williams at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975.”

Whereas it’s true that Peltier was convicted in 1977 of murdering two FBI brokers, his authorized crew found in 1980, by way of a Freedom of Info Act request, that the FBI had deliberately withheld proof exhibiting {that a} ballistics skilled had unequivocally dominated out Peltier’s gun because the homicide weapon. This revelation struck on the coronary heart of the U.S. authorities’s case.

After this bombshell, the U.S. lawyer’s workplace modified its story. It dropped its argument that Peltier had murdered the brokers and mentioned he “aided and abetted” whoever did do it. However the U.S. authorities now claims it doesn’t know who killed these brokers ― Peltier’s two different co-defendants had been acquitted based mostly on self-defense ― and there was by no means proof that Peltier aided and abetted anybody. He has constantly maintained that although he was current on the shootout with dozens of others, he didn’t shoot anybody.

However the FBI was determined to put someone in prison after losing two agents. Peltier was the one man left to pin the blame on. So he was sentenced to 2 consecutive life sentences regardless of there being no proof he dedicated a criminal offense.

The explanation Peltier continues to be in jail after his conviction fell aside ― and the rationale he didn’t get a brand new trial ― is as a result of the usual for reviewing what’s referred to as a Brady violation, or withholding proof useful to an individual charged with a criminal offense, was completely different within the Seventies than it’s at this time. On the time, the usual was to gauge whether or not a jury would have come to a special conclusion based mostly on the brand new proof. When Peltier’s attorneys appealed his case to the U.S. Court docket of Appeals for the eighth Circuit within the mid-Eighties, the court docket dominated it was attainable {that a} jury might have come to a special conclusion however couldn’t say definitively sure.

In the present day, the usual for reviewing a Brady violation is gauging whether or not a defendant was disadvantaged of a good trial as a result of new proof was excluded.

Kevin Sharp, Peltier’s professional bono lawyer and a former federal decide appointed by President Barack Obama, mentioned Peltier’s conviction by no means would have caught beneath at this time’s system on condition that the brand new proof in his case proved the homicide weapon was not his.

“Oh, my God. This was their entire case,” Sharp mentioned. “This may completely disintegrate.”

Marchers carry a painting of jailed Leonard Peltier during a march for the National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on Nov. 22, 2001.
Marchers carry a portray of jailed Leonard Peltier throughout a march for the Nationwide Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on Nov. 22, 2001.

Steven Senne/Related Press

These are the details that make it apparent why the second sentence of the FBI’s assertion is bogus: “We should always remember or put apart that Peltier deliberately and mercilessly murdered these two younger males and has by no means expressed regret for his ruthless actions.”

Peltier, once more, is just not in jail for “deliberately and mercilessly” killing anybody. Even the U.S. authorities dropped that argument a long time in the past. He’s in jail for “aiding and abetting” whoever did shoot the FBI brokers, an already baseless cost and one which got here after a surprisingly flawed trial. Prosecutors hid key proof. The FBI threatened and coerced witnesses into mendacity. A juror admitted on the second day of the trial that she was biased in opposition to Native People, however she was allowed to remain on the jury anyway.

Justin Mazzola, deputy director for analysis at Amnesty Worldwide USA, which has devoted an entire campaign to Peltier’s launch, mentioned the FBI’s assertion is unbelievably outdated and ignores key details which have emerged for the reason that Seventies.

“Forty-five years later, this assertion doesn’t even come near aligning with what we now know in regards to the atmosphere and occasions main as much as and on Pine Ridge that fateful day, not to mention the entire info we now know in regards to the trial and case in opposition to Leonard Peltier,” Mazzola mentioned.

“It denies the FBI’s personal function in utilizing perjured testimony to safe his extradition from Canada, the suppression of probably exonerating proof by the [Department of Justice] attorneys in his case,” he mentioned. “Even the prosecutors subsequently admitted that they do not know who shot the brokers at point-blank vary.”

As for the FBI claiming that Peltier “has by no means expressed regret for his ruthless actions,” it makes much more sense in the event you keep in mind that Peltier has maintained his innocence for your entire 46 years he’s been in jail.

Leonard Peltier in prison in 1985, holding up one of his paintings. He has become an established artist while in prison.
Leonard Peltier in jail in 1985, holding up one in all his work. He has turn out to be a longtime artist whereas in jail.

The FBI additionally claims in its assertion that Peltier’s conviction was “rightly and pretty obtained, nonetheless stands, and has withstood quite a few appeals to a number of courts, together with the U.S. Supreme Court docket.” That is deceptive at greatest.

For starters, the Supreme Court docket by no means took up Peltier’s case. There was no want for it to. Peltier’s U.S. District Court docket conviction was already upheld by an appeals court docket, and there was no authorized dispute for the Supreme Court docket to settle. That’s beside the truth that the Supreme Court docket solely takes up about 100 or so circumstances a yr out of the hundreds it’s requested to assessment.

It’s true that Peltier’s conviction was upheld by an appeals court docket. The eighth Circuit upheld it in 1986. However its cause for doing so goes again to that problematic Seventies customary for reviewing a Brady violation in a legal conviction.

And in a rare letter, 5 years later, the eighth Circuit decide who authored the choice to uphold Peltier’s conviction ended up urging clemency for him.

Choose Gerald Heaney mentioned in his 1991 letter the FBI was at the least partly answerable for the 1975 shootout, that the bureau was deliberately fueling tensions locally as a part of a broader effort to suppress the actions of the American Indian Motion, or AIM, a grassroots group of activists targeted on drawing consideration to federal treaty rights violations, discrimination and police brutality concentrating on Native People.

“The USA authorities should share within the duty for the June 26 firefight…. It appeared that the FBI was equally accountable for the shoot-out,” Heaney wrote to then-Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on the time.

“The federal government’s function can correctly be thought-about a mitigating circumstance,” Heaney added. “In some unspecified time in the future, a therapeutic course of should start. Favorable motion by the President within the Leonard Peltier case can be an vital step on this regard.”

In an interview after his retirement in 1989, Heaney referred to as his resolution to uphold Peltier’s conviction “essentially the most troublesome I needed to make in 22 years on the bench.”

“Oh, my God. This was their entire case. This may completely disintegrate.”

– Leonard Peltier’s professional bono lawyer, Kevin Sharp

The extent of wrongdoing by the FBI and U.S. lawyer’s workplace in Peltier’s case was so egregious that the U.S. Court docket of Appeals for the tenth Circuit, which didn’t even have jurisdiction over reviewing Peltier’s conviction, ripped the U.S. authorities’s dealing with of his case, too.

Peltier’s attorneys had filed an attraction earlier than this court docket in 2003 on a special matter, regarding his request for a assessment of his parole being denied, and the judges went out of their solution to condemn the way in which Peltier ended up in jail in any respect.

“A lot of the federal government’s conduct on the Pine Ridge reservation and in its prosecution is to be condemned,” the judges said in their 3-0 decision. “The federal government withheld proof. It intimidated witnesses. These details will not be disputed.”

The tenth Circuit did uphold Peltier’s parole being denied however solely as a result of the usual it needed to go by was whether or not the parole fee’s resolution was thought-about “arbitrary and capricious.” As a result of the parole fee had mentioned it weighed the misconduct in Peltier’s trial, the court docket couldn’t say its resolution to disclaim his parole was random.

Why was Peltier denied parole? The truth that he maintained his innocence when he was up for parole definitely helped preserve him in jail.

Heaney’s exceptional change of coronary heart in Peltier’s case is lots like what occurred with former U.S. Lawyer James Reynolds. He initially helped put Peltier in jail within the Seventies. Now he’s out in entrance calling for Peltier’s clemency ― one thing his supporters suppose can, and should, lastly occur with President Joe Biden within the White Home.

“I write at this time from a place uncommon for a former prosecutor: to beseech you to commute the sentence of a person who I helped put behind bars,” Reynolds wrote in a surprising letter to Biden in July. “With time, and the advantage of hindsight, I’ve realized that the prosecution and continued incarceration of Mr. Peltier was and is unjust. We weren’t capable of show that Mr. Peltier personally dedicated any offense on the Pine Ridge Reservation.”

In his letter, first obtained by HuffPost in November, Reynolds pleads with the president to launch Peltier as a step towards therapeutic “the damaged relationship” between Native People and the U.S. authorities.

“I urge you to chart a special path within the historical past of the federal government’s relationship with its Native folks via a present of mercy slightly than continued indifference,” he wrote. “I urge you to take a step in direction of therapeutic a wound that I had a component in making.”

Mazzola mentioned the statements by Reynolds and Heaney merely underscore that Peltier has been in jail for many years for a criminal offense that no proof exhibits he committee.

“Whereas we perceive the FBI’s willpower to face up for the 2 brokers who tragically misplaced their lives, their time and efforts can be higher served reviewing and analyzing their very own function in [what] led as much as the circumstances on the Pine Ridge reservation … slightly than persevering with to impede Leonard’s makes an attempt to attain his freedom and muddy the waters of what really occurred that day and at trial,” Mazzola mentioned by electronic mail.

A White Home spokesperson didn’t reply to a request for touch upon what Biden is aware of about Peltier’s case and if he’s contemplating granting clemency.

An FBI spokesperson didn’t reply to a request for touch upon the deceptive or inaccurate features of its assertion about Peltier’s conviction or on the bureau’s misconduct in Peltier’s case.

The spokesperson additionally didn’t say why the FBI emailed HuffPost in response to a request directed to the pardon lawyer’s workplace.





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