July 31, 2009

The fight continues over whether Leonard Peltier should be paroled


BISMARCK, N.D. – The North Dakota reservation where imprisoned American
Indian activist Leonard Peltier grew up has made arrangements to incorporate
him back into society should he be paroled, Peltier’s attorney said Tuesday.

Peltier is serving two life sentences for the execution-style deaths of FBI
agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams during a June 26, 1975, 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 he has unsuccessfully appealed his conviction numerous times.

First Parole Hearing in 15 years

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 Tuesday in a Lewisburg, Pa., federal prison. The hearing was not open
to the public.

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.

FBI agent says Peltier must show remorse

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, 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.

Focus should not be to retry the case in a parole hearing

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.

Decision is imminent – will it be another 15 years for Peltier?

Seitz and Wrigley said the hearing officer is expected to make a
recommendation on Peltier’s parole request to the full Parole Commission
within a few days. The commission will then make a decision within three

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.

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