Native American Activist Leonard Peltier Faces “last chance” Parole Hearing after 50 years in prison

Peltier last had a full parole hearing 15 years ago, when federal officials argued his release after a controversial conviction for killing two FBI agents in 1975 would promote “disrespect for the law.”

The results of the Monday’s parole hearing are expected within 21 days.

In 1977, Native American activist Leonard Peltier was convicted of the murder of two FBI agents who died in a shootout at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Peltier, now 77, has always maintained his innocence, and this spring, he asked President Biden to review his case and grant him clemency. Several lawmakers, including Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), are also calling on Biden to free Peltier. AP

Peltier, who is at a federal prison in Florida, had a severe bout with COVID-19 earlier this year. His family said he is suffering from diabetes, hypertension, and an abdominal aortic aneurysm, and is partially blind due to a stroke. One of his supporters is Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), whose office said Peltier recently shared with them his “difficulties receiving adequate medical attention and gaining access to basic needs, like water.”
Leonard Peltier

An enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe, Peltier was active in the American Indian Movement, which began in the 1960s as a local organization in Minneapolis that grappled with issues of police brutality and discrimination against Native Americans. It quickly became a national force. 

AIM grabbed headlines in 1973 when it took over the village of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation, leading to a 71-day standoff with federal agents. Tensions between AIM and the government remained high for years.

The FBI considered AIM an extremist organization and planted spies and snitches in the group. Sharp (Peltier’s Defense Attorney) blamed the government for creating what he described as a “powder keg” that exploded on June 26, 1975. That’s the day agents came to Pine Ridge to serve arrest warrants amid ongoing battles over Native treaty rights and self-determination.

Democracy Now reports that Peltier, a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) was convicted of the killing of two FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Reservation. He and three others were charged — the other 3 were acquitted, claiming self defense and/or lack of evidence. Peltier was the only one sentenced to prison. He admitted to the shootings but said it was self defense. He was sentenced for two life terms and had his last parole hearing 15 years ago.

NBC states, “medical and re-entry experts would be called to support Peltier’s case for parole, and that hearing examiners and the U.S. Parole Commission will have letters from his community and prominent figures to review. Over the decades, human rights and faith leaders, including Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama, and Nobel Peace Prize recipients such as Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu have backed Peltier’s release.

Director Wray disagrees on “Over the last 45 years,” said Director Wray in a letter opposing Peltier’s 2024 parole request, “no fewer than 22 federal judges have evaluated the evidence and considered Peltier’s legal arguments. Each has reached the same conclusion: Peltier’s claims are meritless, and his convictions and sentence must stand.”

The Week