The Butler-Robideau Trial
Darrelle “Dino” Butler and Bob Robideau stood trial separately from Leonard Peltier who, convinced he would never receive a fair trial in the United States, had fled to Canada.
The defense team succeeded in getting the trial moved from racist South Dakota to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Cedar Rapids was, however, a predominantly white city and concerns remained as to the likelihood of Butler and Robideau receiving a fair trial.
Immediately, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began setting the stage for the defendants’ convictions. Agents warned local police that carloads of American Indian Movement (AIM) “terrorists” were descending on the town. On May 11,1976, U.S. marshals visited every office in the Federal Building (where the trial was to be held), telling folks to prepare for shooting incidents and the seizure of hostages and advising them that marshals on the roof would be on the lookout for marauding Indians.
Elsewhere, rumors about alleged renegade activity ran rampant. A report allegedly emanating from Connecticut police intelligence, for example, stated that a “terrorist” group affiliated with AIM had hatched a plan “to kill a cop a day.” The report failed to mention that the organization referenced was defunct.
On June 22, the FBI released a teletype that was distributed to law enforcement agencies throughout the country. It claimed that 2,000 AIM “Dog Soldiers” trained in “the Northwest Territory” would fan out across South Dakota and would kidnap, bomb, burn, snipe… all to disrupt the Bicentennial Celebration.
When the 2,000 “Dog Soldiers” didn’t show up in South Dakota and the rest of the FBI’s scare campaign was shown to be a lie, the Cedar Rapids community began to look at AIM members, who had peaceably assembled there for the trial, with a fresh eye and view the government’s machinations with skepticism.
Presided over by Judge Edward McManus, the trial commenced on June 7, 1976.
The defendants admitted that they were present at the shoot-out and had exchanged fire with the FBI agents in the course of defending their women and children.
In a search for the truth, Judge McManus allowed a broad range of evidence to be heard, often over the vigorous objections of the prosecutor. This allowed the jury to receive a full explanation of how the shoot-out had occurred and why the Native defendants reacted as they did.
Testimony was heard about the Pine Ridge “Reign of Terror” and from the director of the FBI himself, Clarence Kelley, on the Bureau’s counterintelligence activities and tactics. Testimony prompted by the defense attorneys also brought forward a pattern of FBI misconduct in other prosecutions of AIM members, specifically those occurring after Wounded Knee II.
During the trial, a key prosecution witness, Mr. Draper, also admitted that he had been threatened by the FBI and as a result had changed his testimony based on agents’ instructions, so as to support the government’s position. Another prosecution witness also was shown to have lied on the witness stand.
Clearly, the evidence heard at trial was sufficient to convince the jury of the defendants’ claims. Further, the government’s behavior before and during the trail severely damaged its credibility. In July, the jurors found that there was no evidence to link Butler and Robideau to the fatal shots. Moreover, the exchange of gun fire from a distance was deemed an act of self-defense.
*For more information, read In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (Viking, 1983).