20 Jul 2009
Peltier eligible for parole
Hawaii attorney Eric Seitz wants the U.S. Parole Commission to release his client from prison.
"Thirty-three years is enough."
Convicted in 1977 for the shooting deaths of two FBI agents and given two consecutive life terms, Leonard Peltier is currently imprisoned in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. On July 28, Peltier will have his first full parole hearing in 15 years.
The shooting occurred on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on June 26, 1975. Violence on the reservation, some say stirred up by the FBI, was common during the three years after the 1973 takeover of Wounded Knee. The Wounded Knee occupation by traditional Lakota Indians and American Indian Movement activists was the focus of the fifth episode of the acclaimed "We Shall Remain" series that aired on PBS this past spring.
Award winning author Peter Matthiessen investigated the Peltier case in his book, "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse," and actor Robert Redford produced and narrated "Incident at Oglala," a documentary film on the case.
Leonard Peltier enjoys the support of numerous law, religious, and political groups--including Amnesty International--and eight Nobel Peace Laureates, including Nelson Mandela. Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently wrote a letter to the Parole Commission on Peltier's behalf. Noted individuals such as the late Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also have called for Peltier's release.
According to Court documents, "Much of the government's behavior at the Pine Ridge Reservation and its prosecution of Mr. Peltier is to be condemned. The government withheld evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts are not disputed."
Most notably, the FBI withheld critical ballistics evidence that Peltier's attorneys say proves Peltier did not fire the fatal shots.
Nevertheless, after 33 years, Federal prosecutors and the FBI oppose Peltier's release.
"The prosecutors admitted long ago that they do not know who shot the agents or what role Peltier may have played in the shooting. They now claim he's guilty of aiding and abetting, but the only other defendants in the case were found not guilty by reason of self-defense."
Mr. Peltier has no prior convictions and is a model prisoner. Now an accomplished artist, Peltier donates his paintings to charities including battered women's shelters, half way houses, addiction treatment programs, and Native American scholarship funds. He also coordinates an annual gift drive for the children on Indian reservations around the country.
Leonard Peltier is widely recognized in the human rights community and has won several human rights awards. Peltier also has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the past six consecutive years.
Mr. Peltier is now 64 years old and suffers from partial blindness, diabetes, a heart condition, and high blood pressure.