Lawyers for Leonard Peltier, an Anishinabe-Lakota Native American and leading member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) who has been imprisoned for over 40 years despite serious concerns about the fairness of proceedings leading to his conviction, have written a letter to the Department of Justice asking that he be provided clemency.
Peltier has been serving two consecutive life sentences in a maximum security prison, most recentlyin Florida, in connection with the murders of two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, during a confrontation involving AIM members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in June 1975.While he admits to having been present during the incident, Peltier has always denied killing the agents.
Allegations have arisen that a key eyewitness was coerced into stating that Peltier killed the agents after months of FBI harassment and threats. She later retracted her statement, and was subsequently prevented from being called as a defense witness at his trial. There are further concerns about the evidence linking Peltier to the shootings as well as the prosecution’s withholding of evidence that might have assisted his defense. He is next up for parole in 2024, but in January 2016, he was diagnosed with a potentially fatal abdominal aortic aneurysm.
“Leonard Pelter is now 71 years old and in failing health, and has spent the past four decades held thousands of miles away from his family for a crime that he maintains he did not commit,” said Jasmine Heiss, senior campaigner with Amnesty International USA. “We recognize the seriousness of the crime that took the lives of Agents Coler and Williams, and our sympathies are with their families. They have a right to justice. But considering the concerns clouding the legal process, there is no justice in allowing Leonard to die in prison.
“In light of the concerns that have arisen regarding Leonard Peltier’s conviction and his grave medical condition, President Obama must grant his petition for executive clemency.”