The U.S. Parole Commission is expected to make a decision on the imprisoned American Indian Movement (AIM) activist Leonard Peltier within three weeks.
Peltier was convicted for the June 1975 murders of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He is serving two life sentences for the execution-style deaths of FBI agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams during a standoff on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was convicted in Fargo, N.D., in 1977. He has claimed the FBI framed him, which the agency denies, and unsuccessfully appealed his conviction numerous times.Defense attorney Eric Seitz said a representative of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa spoke at Peltier’s first full parole hearing in 15 years, held July 28 in a Lewisburg, Pa., federal prison. The hearing was not open to the public.
A representative of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians said the tribe will welcome Peltier back to the reservation if he wins parole. The North Dakota reservation where Peltier grew up has made arrangements to incorporate him back into society should he be paroled, Peltier’s attorney said. Seitz said the tribe has arranged for Peltier to have a place to live, a teaching job and a position on the Council of Elders.
John Trimbach said his father, Joseph, an FBI agent who was at Pine Ridge, read a statement at the parole hearing opposing Peltier’s bid for freedom, telling Peltier “healing is possible only if you acknowledge your guilt, ask for forgiveness and show remorse for the terrible crimes you committed.”
Drew Wrigley, the outgoing U.S. Attorney for North Dakota, submitted a 17-page letter to the commission, saying Peltier’s release would pose a public safety risk. An FBI agent also testified against parole.
Drew Wrigley, U.S. attorney for North Dakota, provided a 17-page letter to the hearing officer in which he said, “Peltier is simply an unrepentant, violent, armed criminal who is a continuing danger to the public welfare.” Paroling him at this time would create an unacceptable risk to society in general and to the United States Parole and Probation officers who would be tasked with the duty of attempting to supervise him,” Wrigley said.
Seitz called the government’s testimony “largely repetitive and rhetorical,” and said his focus during the six-hour parole hearing was not to retry the criminal case but to address criteria for parole. He said that included the arrangements made by the Turtle Mountain tribe and Peltier’s conduct in prison. He said Peltier has had no documented misconduct in the past 10 years, “which is remarkable in a prison.”
Seitz said the 64-year-old Peltier is in poor health, with diabetes, high blood pressure, a jaw problem and a urinary system ailment. Seitz and Wrigley said the hearing officer is expected to make a recommendation on Peltier’s parole request to the full Parole Commission soon. The commission will then make a decision in August. Parole was abolished for federal convicts in 1987, but Peltier remains eligible because he was convicted before then. The U.S. Parole Commission denied Peltier’s parole request in 1993 and said he could not ask again for 15 years.
Mr. Peltier contributes regular support to those in need. He donates his paintings to charities including battered women's shelters, half way houses, alcohol and drug treatment programs, and Native American scholarship funds. He also coordinates an annual holiday gift drive for the children of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.Peltier has won several awards including the North Star Frederick Douglas Award; Federation of Labour (Ontario, Canada) Humanist of the Year Award; Human Rights Commission of Spain International Human Rights Prize; and 2004 Silver Arrow Award for Lifetime Achievement. He has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize six times.