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The Case Of Leonard Peltier

Arthur J. Miller

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FEBRUARY/MARCH 1986      p58  
Imagine, if you would for a minute, living in a room the size of your bathroom. Imagine spending most of your life over the last 10 years enclosed in such a place. Three walls and bars. Imagine the feeling of nearly constant confinement, walls closing in on you, and the continuous battle to suppress all thought of such. Imagine being there not because you are a criminal, a threat to society, but because you devoted your life to the well-being of your people. Imagine having to be cautious of every move you make, for eyes are forever on you, waiting for you to slip. Imagine knowing that those who are your keepers wish you dead and have, in the past, tried to assassinate you. Imagine living this life, imprisoned by a frame-up, by a massive conspiracy by the Government of the United States of America. Imagine the life of Leonard Peltier.

Leonard Peltier is a Chippewa/Lakota American Indian Movement (AIM) activist who was framed on the charge of aiding and abetting in the deaths of two F.B.I. agents on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation in South Dakota on June 26, 1975.

After the Lakota/AIM occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973 there were many trials of AIM activists and sympathizers which occurred because the FBI began a campaign of `targetting' AIM activists. Over 300 unsolved and uninvestigated murders of traditional Lakota took place before the Lakota Elders asked A.I.M. activists to come in for their protection. AIM had set up on the jumping Bulls' property near Oglala, within the Pine Ridge Reservation. On June 26th, 1975, two FBI agents entered the jumping Bulls' property and a shoot-out occurred. The two FBI agents were killed and Joseph Stuntz, a 21-year-old Coeur d'Alene Indian, was also killed. It would seem that the FBI agents went in as part of a coordinated action, for there were numerous FBI and BIA agents in the area and within two hours over 200 agents and others were at the site of the shoot-out. Also, at the same time, in Washington, D.C., pro-government Indians of Pine Ridge were negotiating away 133,000 acres of Lakota land.

The federal government indicted four Indians - Leonard Peltier, Dino Butler, Bob Robideau, and James Eagle. Charges were later dropped against Eagle. Dino Butler and Bob Robideau were tried in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; they used the defense of self-defense in a long-continued atmosphere of official harassment and they were found not guilty.

Leonard Peltier was arrested in Canada and held in chains in Okalla Prison. He was extradited from Canada on statements coerced (by FBI agents) from Myrtle Poor Bear implicating Leonard in the deaths of the agents. Myrtle was told that if she did not sign the statements she would end up like Anna Mae Aquasn. Anna Mae was one of the hundreds of people were detained and questioned in the days after the shoot-out. FBI Agent David Price told Anna Mae he would see her dead if she did not talk, and within a year she was found with a bullet in the back of her head. Myrtle was shown pictures of Anna Mae's corpse. At the beginning of Leonard's trial, Myrtle came to the defense and asked to testify about what the FBI did to her, but the judge ruled that "if believed, Myrtle Poor Bear's testimony would shock the conscience of the court".

After the loss of the Iowa trial, the government decided to go all out to get Leonard Peltier. First, they shifted the jurisdiction from Iowa to North Dakota and Judge Paul Benson (a Nixon appointee) became the new judge. The FBI and federal prosecutors denied defense requests for evidence such as ballistics reports, autopsy reports and other evidence which would have aided Leonard's defense. Judge Benson denied the defense the right to present to the jury testimony about FBI misconduct around the case. Despite only very circumstantial evidence against Leonard, he was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for two lifetimes.

With his case in the Appeals Court, Leonard struggled in prison for better prison conditions and for the right of Indian prisoners to practice their religion. This led to a fast by Leonard -58 Peltier, Al Garza and Standing Deer in Marion Federal Prison after the lockdown. Positive effects are still being felt from this fast.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Leonard's defense was able to get 12,000 pages of FBI files on his case. These files contradicted or threw into question every point of "evidence" against Leonard at his trial.

In April 1984, the Appeals Court ordered the trial judge to hold an "evidentiary hearing" on the meaning of a telegram from the FBI office in Washington, D.C. to the field office in South Dakota, which stated that the gun attributed to Leonard could not have fired the bullet which was used in Leonard's trial to link him to the "murders". At the hearing in October 1984, when the FBI ballistics expert was caught in perjured testimony and later came in and changed his testimony, the trial judge, in his decision, stated that since the agent came back and changed his testimony, he only added to his reliability.

The Appeals Court agreed to hear oral arguments and these were made on October 15, 1985. The judges' questions demolished the Government's case against Leonard in a courtroom with many supporters. In front of the courthouse, supporters held a vigil which had been preceded by months of rallies, vigils, a walk, and thousands of petitions and letters sent to the Court. The U.S. Attorney acknowledged to the judges that the Government does not know who killed the agents, they cannot prove that the gun used was in Leonard's possession; cannot prove the connection between the shell casing found in the agent's car and the gun Leonard is said to have been using.

We are now waiting for the decision from the Appeals Court. There is a great need for people to let the Appeals Court judges know they support a new trial for Leonard Peltier. Please write letters of support to:

Judges Gerald Heaney, John Gibson and Donald Ross, U.S. Court of Appeals (Eighth Circuit), 1114


The Case Of Leonard Peltier

Arthur J. Miller

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FEBRUARY/MARCH 1986      p59  

Market Street, St. Louis, Missouri 63101 USA

People of all colors and backgrounds should come together and support Leonard Peltier, not only because of the above reasons, but also because it affects them. The government will use, and has used, these same tactics against ALL people who have stood up to their shameful game. Leonard Peltier's case is the one case that we can prove beyond any doubt that the government conspired to frame an activist. Thus, if we can get Leonard a new trial, this will be a step in the struggle against governmental suppression and abuse of activities.
In Solidarity, Arthur J. Miller

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For more information
The International Office of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee
P.O. Box 6455
Kansas City, KS 66106
Tel: (816) 531-LPSG

Letters of solidarity
Leonard Peltier
#89637-132
P.O. Box 1000
Leavenworth, Kansas 66048