In a “truly extraordinary” and evidently unprecedented act, a former prosecutor of Native American activist Leonard Peltier, now 72, ill, and in his 41st year in prison for a shooting he has unceasingly denied committing, has joined the decades-long demands of legal experts, indigenous leaders and rights advocates to free one of this country’s most high-profile political prisoners. Peltier’s conviction stems from the American Indian Movement’s 1973 siege at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, site of the Wounded Knee massacre of Lakota in 1890. After a long occupation protesting the federal government’s unjust treatment and broken treaties, two FBI agents and one Native American were killed. Peltier was eventually found guilty of shooting the agents, and sentenced to two life sentences.
Peltier remains in prison despite years of legal battles and repeated claims that federal agents lied, coerced witnesses and withheld evidence at his trial; ultimately, the prosecution admitted they couldn’t prove who shot the agents. Peltier attorney and former federal prosecutor Cynthia Dunne calls the FBI’s case “yesterday’s equivalent of a Trump tweet that has lasted for 40 years.” Calling his ongoing imprisonment “one of the greatest injustices in the American justice system,” Dunne and other attorneys filed a clemency request last year to President Obama in hopes he will include Peltier in a final flurry of pardons. Their plea was one of many on behalf of Peltier, from Amnesty International to Standing Rock Sioux Chief Dave Archambault. If Obama fails to act, his attorneys say Peltier will die in prison.
Startlingly joining those calls on Wednesday was James Reynolds, 77, a senior US attorney who oversaw the appeal that brought to light many of the flaws of the government’s case. In a letter to Obama, Reynolds wrote that clemency would be “in the best interest of justice in considering the totality of all matters involved.” Reynolds later argued it was unjust for Peltier to remind behind bars – “It’s time to call it quits” – especially given that prosecutors ultimately only found him guilty of being an accomplice. Above all, Reynolds stressed Peltier’s motives: “He didn’t go out there with the intention to kill anybody…He was trying to protect his people.”
CALL TO ACTION: Peltier supporters are asked to please send thank you cards and letters to Mr. James Reynolds. 300 Palm Drive, #4, Naples, FL 34112.