A Plea to bring Peace and Reconciliation regarding Incident at Pine Ridge (1975)
In 1975, Leonard Peltier was convicted and sent to prison for the murder of two FBI agents Ronald A. Williams (27) and Jack R. Coler (28) . Since that time Leonard has maintained his innocence rising to be portrayed as an international activist/political prisoner. In an article that ran in Native Sun (April 2010), Joseph H. Trimbach (FBI Special Agent in Charge), and son John are highlighted as authors of a book titled American Indian Mafia, which was promoted in the article authored by Adrian L. Jawort in 2010. The article highlighted the former FBI Agent and his son arguing they supported Leonard’s parole attempt in 2009, stating that if Leonard confesses and asks for forgiveness, it would be his only chance for parole (Jawort, A. 2010 Indian Country News, Aging Myth of Leonard Peltier retrieved 12/22/19, https://indiancountrynews.com/index.php/news/investigations/leonard-peltier/8837-the-aging-myth-of-leonard-peltier .
The movie Incident at Oglala produced by Robert Redford (1992) is fairly convincing and certainly leads viewers to conclude an innocent man may have been wrongfully convicted. In fact, over time Leonard’s case has risen to great heights of emotions within communities around the world that question why Canada allowed for the extradition of Peltier whom escaped the crime scene and asked for Amnesty of that Government. (Murphy, Para Legal on the Peltier Defense Committee, comments two former Canadian MP’s commented on this fact regarding the extradition, but it’s in a sealed file in Ottawa Canada (12/29/19. This needs follow-up and fact checked)
According to respondents on the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, all appeals have been exhausted unless there is new evidence in the case that could exonerate Peltier. One theory is that another assailant could have also escaped that was actually the murderer.
Allegedly Peltier is on record in, “letters to Mr. Banks,” having denied to cooperate with investigations into murdered AIM activist Anna Mae Aquash stating he would not assist if it led to incarceration of another person (Jawort, A 2010). Trail records indicate Leonard’s attorney invoked Leonard’s fifth Amendment rights. Murphy (12/22/19) comments there was a settlement of defamation concerning misquotes about Leonard in articles run in Indian Country News going back to 2003 and the source should therefore be viewed as biased. It was found that Publisher of Indian Country News, Paul DeMain, was earlier sued by Peltier and settled in years before 2010. A subsequent trial convicted two other Natives involving the Anna Mae Aquash case, which did not involve Leonard. It is left here just to reveal how contentious and devastating the entire matter is. Other lesser known accusations from one source suggests AIM was also involved in terror related murders that have never before been discussed.
Former President Obama denied Leonard’s clemency request even though it was accompanied with a letter from then top U.S. Prosecutor James Reynolds whom argued that proving who shot the agent was never accomplished in the trial (Levin, S. 2017). According to (2017) article by Sam Levin, accusations from Leonard’s defense Attorney included that false statements and false affidavits and coerced witnesses…. even a withheld (key) ballistics report made the contaminated trial unfair. Mistrial is grounds for retrial or dismissal in trials, were those motions filed by Peltier’s defense? Has the evidence for why the motion was not been sustained been reviewed for appeals? Levin’s article (2017) suggests Reynolds implied U.S. Prosecutors concluded Leonard was an accomplice only and that in his opinion, Leonard’s sentence should be considered served. Reynolds urged for Peltier’s release, but January 2018, it was announced Obama denied the clemency request (Levin, S. Top Prosecutor in Leonard Case urges clemency, Jan. 2017 retrieved 12/22/19.
Peltier’s defense Attorney has filed a request with Trump administration in June, 2018, but there has been no response (Seattle Times June 9, 2018 retrieved 12/22/19 Associated Press). Peltier is not up for Parole until 2024. Reportedly, Peltier now 74, is in very poor health.
Global Native Affairs has called on Peltier to write a letter to the survivors of the FBI families impacted to express his sincere apologies the war resulted in deaths and to accept his responsibility for the events of that day and any other illegal activity he may be associated with. It is not our position to judge, we just know the outcomes continue to cause suffering and that healing can happen. We all know nothing great comes from war and that we make mistakes in our youth. Our system is built on forgiveness and second chances, but there are instances where prejudice and unfairness don’t allow second chances for everyone.
Calls have been put out for all Tribes to band together to offer support and donations to help pay damages to the FBI surviving families, and Native families victimized by the rampant killings of the time, as a gesture asking for forgiveness and to please extend mercy on Peltier regardless if he pulled the trigger or if he was truly an accomplice at the wrong place at the wrong time. If we listen to Peltier himself, he maintains he was not the shooter. If we listen to the leading U.S. Prosecutor, Peltier was found to be an accomplice only to the two FBI murders. If we listen to Peltier’s defense team, led by David Frankel and Larry Hildes, Peltier was charged for a crime he did not commit and was never given a fair trial.
The tragedy that occurred cannot be dismissed. It impacts Native families and communities all over the world that have endured murder, slavery, forced relocations, forced assimilation since the early Spanish invasions pre-1492. The war must end. We have an opportunity to work together, to learn from each other and demonstrate for future generations how we can solve problems peacefully and restore harmony together. We are hopeful the letter from Peltier brings peace of mind to the grieving families that have lost loved ones on all sides.
Perhaps the case could be subject to review by the International Criminal Court or other appropriate independent judicial body agreed to by all parties. If mistrial is concluded, then simply put, Leonard factually deserves other shot at justice- a retrial so that the truth may be determined factually. This is important to preserve the integrity of our justice system and build trust internationally concerning the deteriorating human rights record in the United States. Likewise all the families that have knowledge or credible accusations of criminal related activities of anyone during the period in question, should step forward and have their voices heard. Of the 65+ murders that took place, very few to date have been held accountable.