Appeals court denies bid for Peltier rehearing
Wednesday, November 5, 2003

American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier lost his bid to cut his prison sentence short on Tuesday.

Peltier, 59, was convicted of murdering two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He has served more than 25 years of two consecutive life sentences but won't get another chance for release until 2008.

The wait is longer than normal but legal under prison guidelines. The U.S. Parole Commission determined that the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the agents, who were shot at point-blank range, warranted tougher conditions on Peltier.

At the same, the commission found no direct evidence to prove that Peltier personally executed Jack Coler and Ronald Williams in June 1975. Peltier's lawyers challenged these seemingly contradictory conclusions as "arbitrary and capricious" but lost a bid for parole rehearing before a federal court in Kansas, where Peltier is serving his time.

Yesterday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals also refused to move up the hearing. In an unsigned decision, the court acknowledged that the federal government may not have treated Peltier fairly but said the facts on record link him to the crime.

"Much of the government's behavior at the Pine Ridge Reservation and in its prosecution of Mr. Peltier is to be condemned. The government withheld evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts are not disputed," the 13-page ruling stated. "But whether the Parole Commission gave proper weight to this mitigating evidence is not a question we have authority to review."

The deaths of the FBI agents, who were killed in a standoff with AIM members, came during a period of turmoil throughout Indian Country. Federal authorities were intent on stifling Indian activists who were protesting government mistreatment. Police presence on the Pine Ridge Reservation was heavy and mistrust of the justice system ran high.

Peltier advocates contend allegations of government misconduct in the case warrant reconsideration and possible release. In 1993, Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) asked then-attorney general Janet Reno to agree to look at evidence that has been kept from Peltier's defense team over the years.

Peltier has also drawn support worldwide. Amnesty International and other organizations consider him a political prisoner. Mary Robinson, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged former President Bill Clinton to grant his release.

But the political and legal appeals have failed to change Peltier's status. Before leaving office in January 2001, Clinton did not act on a request to set Peltier free. The courts have also refused to reconsider the case.

The FBI has steadfastly opposed clemency or parole for Peltier. During the Clinton administration, former FBI Director Louis Freeh would issue statements on the anniversary of the Pine Ridge shootout condemning Peltier as a "cold blooded" killer.

10th Circuit judges Stephanie Seymour, Stephen Anderson, and Wade Brorby heard arguments in the case on September 19. Their decision yesterday was "per curiam," meaning it was from the court but not signed by a particular judge.

Get the Decision:
Peltier v. Booker (November 4, 2003

Relevant Links:
Free Leonard Peltier -
Leonard Peltier Defense Committee -
The Leonard Peltier File, FBI -
The Peltier Trial Transcripts -
The No Parole Peltier Association -

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Peltier lawyers prepare for hearing on parole (9/19)
Appeals court to hear Peltier parole case (9/16)
Appeals court denies latest Peltier appeal (12/13)
Peltier loses reduced sentence appeal (12/12)
Peltier seeks reduction in prison sentence (10/09)
FBI says not hiding Peltier information (7/22)
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Freeh takes blame for 'serious error' at FBI (5/17)
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Peltier foe announces resignation from FBI (5/2)
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Clinton: I'll decide on Peltier (11/09)
Text of Clinton's remarks on Peltier (11/09)
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