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Time for Justice: Leonard Peltier’s June Parole Hearing Garners Vast Support Including Legal Expert Letter on Arbitrary Detention from WPLC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 10, 2024


Contact:

Nizhoni Begay, Communications Coordinator, communications@waterprotectorlegal.org 


Time for Justice: Leonard Peltier’s June Parole Hearing Garners Vast Support Including Legal Expert Letter on Arbitrary Detention from WPLC


USP Coleman, Florida – Elder Leonard Peltier, a 79-year-old Citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and of Lakota/Dakota descent, is the longest-serving political prisoner in United States history. Despite being eligible for parole for over thirty-five years, Mr. Peltier has spent over half his life imprisoned and is currently held at USP Coleman I, a federal prison located over 2000 miles from his homelands. On June 10, 2024, Mr. Peltier will once more appear before the Parole Board in what is widely considered his last opportunity for justice.


The efforts for Mr. Peltier’s has garnered vast support including expert letters, letters of assurance, and letters of support from members of Congress. The materials submitted by lead parole counsel Moira Meltzer-Cohen state: “it is the sincere hope and belief of undersigned counsel [and] all those who have contributed to these materials, including Mr. Peltier’s friends, family, and community; experts including historians, members of the bar and the judiciary, public figures, clergy, and even law enforcement; and Mr. Peltier himself, that you will release him into the arms of his loving community, that he may spend what time he has left on earth with his loved ones, supporting youth through connection to their traditional lifeways, free to live out his remaining days on his ancestral lands.” Former federal judge Kevin Sharp and attorney Jenipher Jones are also parole counsel for Mr. Peltier.


In support of the parole, Water Protector Legal Collective, counsel for Mr. Peltier on other issues, submitted an expert letter on arbitrary detention and violation of constitutional due process and religious freedoms throughout the nearly five decades since Mr. Peltier’s incarceration. The letter states: “Legal experts, attorneys, and human rights organizations have highlighted the legal irregularities and lack of fundamental due process evident in Mr. Peltier’s case, including extradition in violation of international treaties, fabricated evidence, witness manipulation, denial of the right to invoke affirmative defenses, FBI interference, and violation of the obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence. Although the right to fundamental due process applies during parole proceedings, the cumulative effect of procedural deficiencies in parole proceedings are overwhelming and documented extensively in the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention decision of 2022.”


The expert letter further details how the prosecution and detention of Mr. Petlier has been marred by historical anti-Native American bias and sentiment rampant in the 1970s. 


The letter asks the parole board to review the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention decision of 2022 (A/HRC/WGAD/2022/7) which narrates the historical context surrounding Mr. Peltier’s detention. A pivotal figure in the American Indian Movement (AIM), which championed Indigenous civil rights starting in 1968, Mr. Peltier's involvement in AIM's efforts to address issues such as land rights, cultural preservation, and social justice underscores his historical significance. The 1973 AIM occupation of Pine Ridge shed light on systemic injustices, including the murders and disappearances of over 60 Indigenous individuals at the hands of FBI authorities during the repressive “Reign of Terror,” at the height of COINTELPRO, largely overlooked by mainstream discourse. 


Despite the disavowal of Mr. Peltier’s guilt by agents of the United States including former U.S. attorney James Reynolds who has called for clemency and Mr. Peltier’s release, he is still serving two life sentences for a wrongful conviction of the murder of two FBI agents during a 1975 stand-off between the FBI and AIM members at Pine Ridge, which also claimed the lives of two Indigenous individuals. 

During the Reign of Terror hundreds of AIM members and traditional peoples faced law enforcement harassment, surveillance, and malicious, politically-motivated court prosecutions. Mr. Peltier, along with two other AIM members Robert Robideaux and Dino Butler, faced indictment for the agents' deaths. While Mr. Peltier's co-defendants successfully argued self-defense and presented evidence of FBI misconduct, Mr. Peltier was denied the opportunity to introduce contextual evidence, with witnesses coerced into testimony against him. The FBI's questionable tactics in extraditing Mr. Peltier from Canada, including the use of fabricated evidence, have drawn criticism. Despite mounting evidence of injustices and his innocence, Mr. Peltier was convicted in 1977 and has since spent nearly five decades behind bars. Mr. Peltier has been eligible for parole since 1986 but each parole effort has faced severe opposition from the FBI.


A father, grandfather and great-grandfather, an artist, and ceremonial Sundance and Čhaŋnúŋpa-Carrier (Pipe-Carrier), Mr. Peltier deserves to spend his elder years with his family following nearly half a century of imprisonment in the custody of the United States. The Water Protector Legal Collective’s expert letter urges the Commission to release “Indigenous elder Mr. Peltier, whose incarceration has long been regarded as an open wound in Indian Country; it is time for him to return home… [His] release will rectify a patent injustice, as his prosecution and imprisonment have long been regarded by legal experts in the United States and internationally, including the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, as politically motivated in violation of fundamental due process rights, treaty rights, and international human rights standards.”


Finally, the letter is also supported by an expert declaration from longtime spiritual advisor, Lenny Foster, who also calls for Mr. Peltier’s overdue release, made more urgent still by his ailing physical health and need for spiritual healing that can only come from being on his traditional homelands: “Based on the totality of the circumstances including Mr. Peltier’s age, his strong family ties, positive release plan, personal health conditions, deprivations of religious liberty experienced while imprisoned, indications of positive history and personal habits, serious due process issues arising in previous parole hearings, as well as the many indications of actual innocence in the underlying conviction which has since been disavowed by agents of the United States government, we urge the Commission to release Mr. Peltier with all deliberate speed so he can spend his elder years in the care of his family and with his community…”



We will support Leonard Peltier until he is free. The time for his freedom and justice is now. 


For more information about the background of Mr. Peltier’s case and incarceration please visit:


Born out of the #NoDAPL Movement at Standing Rock, the Water Protector Legal Collective is an Indigenous-led legal nonprofit that provides support and advocacy for Indigenous peoples and Original Nations, the Earth, and climate justice movements. To learn more about WPLC and how to contribute, visit: www.waterprotectorlegal.org

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