Denied Once Again

The August 21, 2009 news that the U.S. Parole Commissions denied Leonard Peltier parole after 32 years imprisonment was disappointing--although many suspected that the agency would not let him go. The decision was announced within a month of his first full parole hearing in 15 years.

The federal government secured Peltier’s extradition from Canada on the testimony of Myrtle Poor Bear, who later recanted. During his trial the judge refused to allow Myrtle Poor Bear to be called as a defense witness and the prosecution withheld key ballistics evidence. When Peltier subsequently appealed his guilty verdict, the government argued that sufficient evidence had been presented to show that he had aided and abetted the killings even if he had not actually committed the murder. The government seems willing to see Peltier die in prison rather than admit its railroading of a key activist in the American Indian Movement (AIM).

During the mid-’70s there was a virtual war on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, with over 60 traditional Indians killed by paramilitary squads connected to the tribal government they accused of corruption. Peltier and other AIM activists came to assist the traditionalists. When two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, entered the reservation with an arrest warrant for four people, a fire fight took place, the agents were injured and then killed at point-blank range. Two other AIM activists were initially charged with the murder, tried separately and acquitted by juries.

Despite shaky “evidence,” Peltier’s good conduct record, his series of illnesses and the recent arrangements the Turtle Mountain tribe made to receive him into their community, the parole commission once again turned down his parole.

Unless the commission reverses its decision or President Obama grants clemency, Leonard Peltier is condemned to continue serving two consecutive life sentences. Amnesty International is one of the many organizations that urged his parole, and continues to support his immediate release.

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