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Native American activist Leonard Peltier is hopeful he’ll have a chance to clear his name before he leaves this world.
The high profile member of the American Indian Movement been imprisoned nearly half a century for the murders of two FBI agents at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975, a crime he’s always maintained he did not commit.
According to NBC News, Peltier, 77, now wants President Joe Biden to review his case and grant him clemency so he won’t die in prison. He’s not looking for a presidential pardon, because it would be granted for a crime he insists he is innocent of. Instead, Peltier wants a new trial and he’s not alone.
Recent calls from Peltier’s supporters and family for him to be released have also noted his failing health, including a recent bout of Covid-19. In his first media interview since 2016, Peltier said by phone on Wednesday from his federal prison in Central Florida, “They’re going to try and make me die here.”
Leonard Peltier is assisted by family and tribe.
Peltier’s family says he is struggling with diabetes, hypertension, partial blindness from a stroke and an abdominal aortic aneurysm. According to his loved ones, he also tested positive for Covid in late January at the Federal Correctional Complex Coleman’s high-security facility. Peltier states he was left untreated and uncared during long stretches of his covid bout, only fed food that matched his misery.
The Democratic National Committee’s Native American Caucus wrote in a letter last week that Leonard Peltier’s continued incarceration “symbolizes the decades-old racial injustice towards Native Americans,” HuffPost reported.
New evidence may support Peltier’s case.
Having spent years in prison mulling over his case and the various legal rulings, Leonard Peltier said there is evidence he’d like to present to show he didn’t fire the bullets that killed two agents in a chaotic shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in June 1975.
Peltier’s tribe, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and Native American activist groups also believe Peltier is innocent, many maintaining he was scapegoated by the federal government in its pursuit to hold someone accountable for the agents’ deaths.
His attorney, Kevin Sharp, a former federal judge, argues that “there’s no evidence to convict him on,” Sharp said. “He was convicted on aiding and abetting murder, but who did he aid and abet? His co-defendants were acquitted based on self-defense.”
Furthermore last year, retired federal prosecutor James Reynolds, who supervised Peltier’s post-trial sentencing and appeals, wrote in a letter to Biden that “we were not able to prove that Mr. Peltier personally committed any offense on the Pine Ridge Reservation.”
Reynolds also acknowledged a long-held belief that Leonard Peltier was treated differently at the time because of a “broken relationship between Native Americans and the government.” He continued that Peltier was prosecuted with “minimal evidence” that “I strongly doubt would be upheld in any court today.”
Hoover’s FBI has remained adamant Peltier is guilty.
In a rare public demonstration during the Clinton Administration, about 500 FBI active and retired agents, and staff members marched to the White House to protest any possible clemency coming toward Peltier. Today they remain just as unified.
The FBI said in a statement Thursday that it holds “resolute against the commutation of Leonard Peltier’s sentence” and that “we must never forget or put aside that Peltier intentionally and mercilessly murdered these two young men and has never expressed remorse for his ruthless actions.”
Asked in January whether Biden was reviewing a request to commute Peltier’s sentence, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, “I don’t have anything to predict for you.” The White House has not commented regarding Peltier’s clemency since.