Appeals court denies latest Peltier appeal
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A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected an attempt by American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier to reduce his prison sentence for the 1975 murder of two FBI agents.

In a unanimous decision, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said Peltier missed a 120-day deadline to file his claim. Despite acknowledging that the government "wrongly withheld" critical evidence, a three-judge panel refused to reconsider the ailing prisoner's two consecutive life terms.

"Mr. Peltier has been aware of this 'new' ballistics information since 1985, and equity does not support extending the 120-day filing period for the seventeen years it has taken Mr. Peltier to file his renewed [challenge]," Circuit Judge Morris Sheppard Arnold wrote for the majority.

The ruling was a quick turnaround for the court. Oral arguments in the case had been held just two months ago, drawing more than one hundred Peltier supporters who called for his early release.

Eric Seitz, one of Peltier's attorneys, asked the court to address "serious miscarriage of justice." "We are here this morning because the record upon which Leonard Peltier was sentenced was inaccurate and incomplete," he said on October 8.

Former assistant U.S. attorney Lynn Crooks, who argued against Peltier at a 1985 hearing to discuss the withheld evidence, came out of retirement to appear at the hearing. He told the court there was nothing to reconsider.

"The basic problem with their theory is that this matter was decided by this court in 1986," he said.

Peltier, 57, was convicted for murdering FBI agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams on the Pine Ridge Reservation on June 26, 1975. The government has not been able to prove he pulled the trigger but argued that if he didn't, he still participated. Peltier was convicted on the basis of this "alternative" theory.

Peltier has been denied parole in the past and won't be up for another review until 2008. Separately, Peltier's attorneys have filed several lawsuits against the FBI to seek disclosure of tens of thousands of pages of documents.

Peltier enjoys support domestically and internationally. But the FBI, particularly during the tenure of former director Louis J. Freeh, has been a vehement opponent of executive clemency, which was denied by President Clinton before he left office in January 2001.

Since Freeh left in May 2001, the FBI has not publicly spoken out about the case. Freeh used to issue statements on the anniversary of the 1975 killings that condemned Peltier as a "cold-blooded" criminal.

Get the Decision:
US v. PELTIER, No. 02-1761 (8th Cir. December 12, 2002)

Relevant Documents:
Audio: Oral Arguments (10/9) | Peltier Brief (5/6) | U.S. Brief (6/3) | Peltier Reply Brief (6/17)

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

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