Ex-FBI Agent Pleads for the Release of Leonard Peltier for Humanitarian Reasons
After 40 years in jail (6 in solitary confinement), with his guilt questionable and his health poor, it is time to let Peltier out of prison.
By John C. Ryan / AlterNet
I was an agent with the FBI when two of my fellow agents were murdered at the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975. Today I’m calling on President Obama to free the man convicted of killing them.
I didn’t know Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams personally, but I felt the same shock and horror everyone in the FBI felt at their deaths. Like former United States Attorney James Reynolds, who handled the prosecution in the critical post-trial period, I believe that clemency for Leonard Peltier “is in the best interest of justice.” I further believe that keeping him incarcerated any longer perverts the system of justice for which the two agents died, and which the agency is sworn to uphold.
I do not make this call lightly, and it should not be seen as a criticism of the actions of the well-meaning, patriotic agents of the Bureau, nor as a referendum on the Bureau itself. A benefit of hindsight is that sometimes it provides an opportunity to address an injustice like this.
According to the Eighth Circuit, witnesses were coerced and ballistics evidence was withheld from Peltier's attorneys at trial. U.S. Attorney Reynolds has re-emphasized in recent interviews that the government had no proof to support its trial theory that Peltier was the person who shot the two FBI agents, and he remains in jail today on a thin “accomplice” theory.
Despite the disturbing number of red flags, judicial criticism of government conduct, and his accomplice status, Peltier has been held in prison for more than four decades, four times longer than former FBI Special Agent Mark Putnam, who had an affair with an informant, murdered her when he learned she was pregnant and then obstructed the investigation into her disappearance. Over the course of those four decades, Leonard Peltier has spent no less than six years in solitary confinement; conditions that the world is coming to understand are cruel and inhuman by definition. Is this justice or vengeance?
I am not alone in urging clemency. My opinion is shared by the former U.S. Attorney Reynolds who prosecuted the case; Eighth Circuit Judge Gerald Heaney who sat on two of Peltier’s appeals; leading luminaries of the human rights community such as Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, the late Coretta Scott King and the late Nelson Mandela; tribal nations from across the country; and more than 112,000 Americans who signed petitions urging the government not to relitigate the case, but to allow closure.
Peltier is 72 years old and reportedly has diabetes, a heart condition, has suffered a stroke, and
Native American Activist Leonard Peltier Denied Clemency
Amnesty International -- Native American activist Leonard Peltier was denied clemency by President Obama today after more than four decades in prison.
“We are deeply saddened by the news that President Obama will not let Leonard go home,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “Despite serious concerns about the fairness of legal proceedings that led to his trial and conviction, Peltier was imprisoned for more than 40 years. He has always maintained his innocence. The families of the FBI agents who were killed during the 1975 confrontation between the FBI and American Indian Movement (AIM) members have a right to justice, but justice will not be served by Peltier’s continued imprisonment.”
“Leonard Peltier is in failing health. The failure to act may have condemned him to die in prison.”
Leonard Peltier, an Anishinabe-Lakota Native American is serving two consecutive life sentences. When arrested, he was a leading member of the American Indian Movement, an advocacy group and movement concerned with Native American rights.
In 1975, during a confrontation involving AIM members, two FBI agents were shot dead. Leonard was convicted of their murders, but has always maintained his innocence. Amnesty International has studied his case extensively over many years and remains seriously concerned about the fairness of proceedings leading to his trial and conviction. Amnesty believes that political factors may have influenced the way in which the case was prosecuted.
In 2009, Leonard Peltier’s petition for release on parole was denied by the US Parole Commission. In fact, the Commission has repeatedly denied parole on the grounds that Leonard did not accept criminal responsibility for the murders of the two FBI agents. This is despite the fact that, after one such hearing, the Commission acknowledged that, “the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that you personally participated in the executions of two FBI agents.”
Today, Leonard is 71 years old. He suffers from diabetes, and was recently diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Amnesty understands that he is not eligible for consideration for parole again until 2024. Given that all available legal remedies have been exhausted and that that Leonard Peltier has now spent over 40 years in prison and is in poor health, Amnesty believes that the US authorities should order Leonard Peltier’s release from prison on humanitarian grounds and in the interests of justice.
In granting clemency, President Obama will lift a virtual death sentence for Peltier, who is next eligible for parole in 2024.
Finally, although Peltier has consistently maintained his innocence in the killings of agents Coler and Williams, he has also expressed sorrow and remorse over the events that led to their deaths, as well as his concern for their families. Whatever one may think of the violence at the Pine Ridge Reservation, or the circumstances of Peltier’s conviction, he is clearly not a threat to anything or anyone. He simply wants to go home.
Like the vast majority of FBI agents, I joined the agency out of a desire to make the world a better place. I believed then as I believe now in the American values of justice and fairness, but as I look back over the past 41 years, I see neither in the Peltier case.
For all these reasons and more, I respectively urge President Obama to grant the clemency petition of Leonard Peltier, in the name of reconciliation and compassion, and in the interest of the American system of justice for which my two fellow agents died.
John C. “Jack Ryan” was an FBI special agent from 1966 through 1987.