Dear President Biden: Release Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier headshot from FBI Poster - 01.gif

Leonard Peltier’s story on Wikipedia

24 Native state legislators sign off on a letter to President Joe Biden requesting clemency of Leonard Peltier

President Joseph R. Biden

Mr. Michael Carvajal, Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons

Mr. Merrick B. Garland, Attorney General

Mr. J.A. Keller, Southeast Regional Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons

Dear President Biden, Attorney General Garland, Director Carvajal, and Director Keller:

We write to request the expedited release of American Indian elder Leonard Peltier, who is 77 years old and who has served more than 44 years in federal prison, some in solitary confinement, in numerous prisons across the United States.

He suffers from severe health conditions, such as diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurysm that can be lethal if ruptured. The Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a national response to the COVID-19 pandemic authorizing the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to release elderly inmates and those with underlying health conditions from federal prisons.

Mr. Peltier is currently imprisoned at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida. Given his underlying health conditions and age, we ask he be granted clemency and immediate action be taken to release him from federal custody.

Mr. Peltier was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences in 1977 for the murders of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler. The agents were killed on June 26, 1975, during a confrontation with members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation.

Many evidentiary and procedural issues arose during Mr. Peltier’s prosecution, such as one alleged key eyewitness to the shootings later retracting her testimony and admitting that the FBI had threatened her and her family. A 1980 Freedom of Information Act ruling revealed to Mr. Peltier’s lawyers that the prosecution withheld important documentary evidence that might have assisted in Mr. Peltier’s case.

Many legal experts have criticized the trial for its numerous due process problems. Appeals for presidential consideration of clemency by many distinguished individuals and organizations have not resulted in action. This further diminishes American Indians’ faith in the criminal justice system throughout the country.

Given the nature of the case, however, support for Mr. Peltier’s case has been widespread and strong, including those who once were part of his criminal prosecution. In 2021, former U.S. Attorney James H. Reynolds — whose office handled the criminal prosecution and appeal of Mr. Peltier — joined a movement that had garnered over 275,000 signatures on a petition requesting President Biden grant Mr. Peltier clemency.

We join the October 8, 2021 letter to your offices by our U.S. Congressional colleagues — Raúl M. Grijalva, Barbara Lee, Jesús G. “Chuy” Garcia, Cori Bush, Emanuel Cleaver II, Jared Huffman, Teresa Leger Fernández, Rashida Tlaib, Pramila Jayapal, Betty McCollum, and Melanie Stansbury — requesting Mr. Peltier’s expedited release and granting of clemency.

We also join the Tribal Nations, leaders, and organizations who have supported Mr. Peltier’s case. The National Congress of American Indians has passed multiple resolutions requesting his clemency and release.

Tribal nations within our representative states and beyond have supported the call for Mr. Peltier’s clemency and release. The Oglala Sioux Tribe, where the shooting took place, and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, where Mr. Peltier is enrolled, have gone so far as to propose plans for his return home, assuming the responsibilities of housing, healthcare, employment, and access to American Indian ceremonial and cultural practices.

Amnesty International, a global human rights organization with over 10 million members, supporters and activists worldwide, continues the call for Mr. Peltier’s release to this day. Mr. Peltier has received overwhelming support from other internationally respected champions of human rights, including the late Nelson Mandela, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Parliament, the Belgian Parliament, the Italian Parliament, the Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rigoberta Menchu, seven Nobel Peace Prize Laureates (including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Shirin Ebadi), Rage Against the Machine, Pete Seeger, Carlos Santana, Harry Belafonte, Gloria Steinem, and Robert Redford.

This list represents but a fraction of Mr. Peltier’s total supporters.

Given this overwhelming support, the constitutional issues underlying Mr. Peltier’s prosecution, and his status as an elderly inmate with severe underlying health conditions, we believe it is highly appropriate that BOP prioritizes the expedited release of Mr. Peltier. We, therefore, request that Mr. Leonard Peltier receive an expedited release and be granted clemency.

We ask you, Mr. President, to do what is right. Let Mr. Peltier go home and live his final years among his people as an act of grace and compassion.

Sent from and signed by:

Ruth Anna Buffalo
Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation
North Dakota House of Representatives
District 27

Ponka-We Victors Cozard
Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma
Tohono O’odham Nation
Kansas House of Representatives
District 103

Christina Haswood
Navajo Nation
Kansas House of Representatives
District 10

Mary Kunesh-Podein
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Minnesota House of Representatives
District 41B

Red Dawn Foster
Oglala Sioux Tribe
Navajo Nation
South Dakota Senate
District 27

Tawna Sanchez
Shoshone-Bannock Tribes
Oregon House of Representatives
District 43

Andi LeBeau
Northern Arapaho Tribe
Wyoming House of Representatives
District 33

Jonathan Windy Boy
Chippewa Cree Tribe
Montana House of Representatives
District 32

Marvin Weatherwax Jr.
Blackfeet Nation
Montana House of Representatives
District 15

Mike D. Fox
Fort Belknap Indian Community
Montana Senate
District 16

Shawn L. Bordeaux
Rosebud Sioux Tribe
South Dakota House of Representatives
District 26A

Peri Pourier
Oglala Lakota
South Dakota House of Representatives
District 27

Georgene Louis
Pueblo of Acoma
New Mexico House of Representatives
District 26

Troy Heinert
Rosebud Sioux Tribe
Senate Minority Leader
South Dakota Senate
District 26

Shane Morigeau
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
Montana Senate
District 48

Jamie Becker Finn
White Earth Nation
Minnesota House of Representatives
District 42B

Sharon Stewart Peregoy
Crow Nation
Montana House of Representatives
District 42

Jamescita Peshlakai
Navajo Nation
Arizona State Senator
District 7

Brenda McKenna
Nambé Pueblo
New Mexico Senate
District 9

Tamara St. John
Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate
South Dakota House of Representatives
District 1

Benny Shendo
Jemez Pueblo
New Mexico Senate
District 22

Derrick Lente
Pueblo of Sandia
New Mexico House of Representatives
District 65

Richard Marcellais
Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa
North Dakota Senate
District 9

Heather Keeler
Yankton Sioux and Eastern Shoshone
Minnesota House of Representatives
District 4A


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