Global news provides Americans with a ringside seat to political prisoner issues across the world. Americans hear about people who are taken as prisoners, charged with a crime, but the general consensus remains that they are actually prisoners because they angered the government of either their homeland or the government of the nation they lived in. Americans sit tight and secure in the belief that those type of things could never happen in this country, until they hear about the case of Leonard Peltier. Leonard Pielter has languished in prison for three decades for murder. Anyone who hears about this case choose a camp. One side believes he belongs in prison and deserves the sentence he received. Others believe that he is being used as a pawn in a political show of defiance. This paper will provide a case study that will determine whether or not Peltier is a cold blooded murderer, or a downtrodden political prisoner.
Leonard Pielter is a man who is currently serving two life sentences. He stands convicted of the murder of two FBI agents. He has been in prison for almost three decades and he has lost appeal after appeal to have his concerns heard about the legality of his case, his trial and the extradition before the trial. The case revolved around the well-known Pine Ridge Reservation troubles of 1975(Melmer, David (2003). Court nixes Peltier parole hearing. Lakota Times.).
Pielter, who is Native American insists that his heritage and his anger and protest against the white American government is what has caused him to receive two life sentences. Those who stand for his conviction and want him to remain in prison believe that the right trigger man has been convicted regardless of the heritage issues he claims are involved.
Peltier is serving two life sentences for the deaths of two FBI agents,
Ronald Williams and Jack Coler on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975.
Peltier attorneys argued before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the government never proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Peltier pulled the trigger that killed the two agents."
His defense attorneys believe that the case is non-existence and that their client is being made an example of as a statement to what can happen if one chooses to stand against the government in the United States.
Justice is just not being served here. There is no case, if you read this stuff only an imbecile wouldn't see it. This is outrageous," said Barry
Bachrach, Peltier's attorney."
Pielter has filed again and again to have his appeal heard but he has been refused. He has also filed to receive an early parole hearing. In accordance with his conviction and sentence the first time he is eligible for parole is the year 2008. He has filed to have an early parole hearing granted but that request has been denied. Those who are advocates of Peltier's believe he is being persecuted. Those who believe he is a murderer believe that he should serve his sentence like other convicted criminals have done.
Circumstances, such as an escape, armed robbery as a fugitive, possession of a fire arm, 11 incidents of institutional misconduct and first degree murder conviction prompted the parole commission to set a minimu0m of 188 months before Peltier would be eligible for a parole hearing. At the time of the first hearing, Peltier had served 204 months, and a full parole commission decided to increase the time to 200 months and agreed with the original commission decision."
Advocates of the prisoner report he has been in prison more than a decade than the average prisoner has had to serve before receiving a parole hearing.
This case has drawn much media attention that has waxed and waned over the years. This case study will determine whether Peltier is indeed being persecuted beyond reasonable time frames and means, or if he is simply a cold blooded killer who is trying to use his heritage to gain favors from the government.
Background of the Issue
Before one can begin to understand the complexities behind the case one must have a grasp on the case itself and what occurred that caused the man's conviction.
Peltier's lawyer, Barry Bachrach, said under rules in place when Peltier was convicted, he should have been eligible for parole in 1986; the commission has said he must wait until 2008(Sarche, Jon (2003).,Peltier Denied Request for Parole Hearing. Associated Press.)."
It was three decades ago when the FBI participated in a standoff at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
A shootout erupted when the agents, searching for a robbery suspect, drove on the property of a family that Peltier's lawyers say had sought protection from the American Indian Movement during conflicts on the reservation.The case has become a rallying point for American Indian and human rights activists, who believe Peltier is a political prisoner. He was the subject of several documentary films and the best-selling novel "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse" by Peter Matthiessen."
Peltier has been an American Movement leader since the 1970's. He has been a spokesperson for Native Americans who are not happy with the American government treatment of Native Americans in this country.
Many believe the government has launched several intimidation suits to stop spokespeople like Peltier (Matthiessen, Peter, (1991). Who Really Killed the FBI Men-Akwesasne Notes, Summer, vol. 23 #2).
The main victim of these intimidation suits has been Leonard Peltier, an American Indian Movement leader, and the subject of the book, who was deprived of his main organizing tool in his fight for justice. Peltier is still in prison, convicted of murdering 2 FBI agents in a shootout, near Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1975."
The main argument from the Peltier camp is the belief that he has not been granted the same rights and considerations that others in his same position have received. Beginning from the extradition from Canada, the trial itself and the subsequent appeal process Peltier defenders allege that he has been thwarted in manners more stringent and stubborn than others who have been convicted of similar or worse crimes.
It has never been clear who fired first on June 26, 1975, at the Jumping Bull residence on Pine Ridge Reservation or why special agents Ronald Williams and Jack R. Coler pursued a red pickup onto the property. What is clear is that the agents, wounded after a shootout started, were then finished off at close range. Although there were no eye witnesses to the execution, according to Mr. Lowe, the F.B.I. brought the full weight and power of governmental resources to the prosecutions of Robert Robideau, Dino Butler and Leonard Peltier, all of whom were leaders in the American Indian Movement (AIM), a civil rights group active during the 1970s that stressed getting back to traditional Indian culture (____(1993) Indian Activist's Lawyer Recounts Trial, F.B.I. Misconduct. Booker House University of Virginia Press. Inside UVA. July.). "
While the shooting occurred there were many children, woman and elderly who were able to leave the area without harm. There where more than a dozen others who escaped including three of the men that the FBI was looking for. There were five roadblocks set up around the area and there were many dozen law enforcement agents surrounding the area that day.
Peltier was among those who escaped initial arrest. He fled to Canada where he sought refuge from what he claimed was persecution by the United States government. As has been a long tradition many who have been accused of violent crimes flee to the northern neighbor because Canada does not allow the death penalty. Canada has been a place for fugitives to go so that the U.S. has to promise not to seek the death penalty when it comes time to have the trial before Canada will agree to send the fugitive back to the U.S. Peltier crossed into Canada and fought his extradition with everything he had. He eventually lost and was sent back to the U.S. For his trial which garnered him two life sentences.
Peltier was charged with and convicted of two murders, both involving the shooting deaths of FBI agents. No one was ever charged with the death of any of the Native Americans who were killed during that stand off at Wounded Knee.
Peltier's attorneys have maintained since the trial that the FBI committed many acts of misconduct throughout the process.
One of the most distressing things about working on the case was the F.B.I.'s misconduct. "I had been raised that the F.B.I. could do no wrong. It was inconceivable to me that an agent would lie on the witness stand or tamper with evidence," said Mr. Lowe. "We one-two punched the government's case. We convinced the jury there was reasonable doubt that Robideau and Butler were responsible for the killings. Some agents were openly weeping in the courtroom, they were so surprised by the verdict, he said. "After the other two got off,…