Leonard Peltier was born in September 1944 in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He is a Native American and a citizen of the Anishinable and Dakota/Lakota nations who has been imprisoned since 1976. He was a participant in the American Indian Movement. (AIM). It is believed that Peltier on June 26, 1975 being an activist had tried to assist the Oglala Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Reservation when a tragic shoot-out occurred and during the commotion two agents of federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were killed (NPPA)
He came from one of the most impoverished areas in America. He was born in a time when the United States was in its top agenda of evacuating the Native Americans from their reservations into urban areas known as “ghetto”. It is a common knowledge that the natives had experienced harsh conditions and treatment in the hands of United States government. It is due to these harsh conditions that they formed American Indian movement (AIM) and Peltier later joined and began to involve himself in its activities. (Churchill 303-304)
Among the many fights AIM fought for included reclaiming back their lands which had been taken through faulty treaties and promises that were never fulfilled (De Leon 135). It is at the height of this that many were injured and lost their lives. It is in regard to these historical facts which still lingers in memories of many that the crime that Leonard Peltier may or had committed still remains unclear. The crimes that Leonard Peltier had committed and consequently his trial contradicts to a great extent.
His crime and innocence as depicted from different individuals and groups portrays different standpoints that leaves the case unclear at to what exactly happened on June 26, 1975, the day that Peltier is believed to have murdered two federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents. Those on government side termed him as “a first degree murderer’ and those on his defence as “America’s foremost political prisoner’ (Vigil 286-87) The case of Leonard Peltier has gone through different levels of development, from the day that the two agents were murdered, to the allegations made in his trial and the post-trial debate.
Some of the allegations are based on assumptions that many know what exactly happened. (De Leon 134) It is crystal clear according to Glisson (289) that the trial and convictions of Leonard Peltier has received both criticism and support from the world over. Though there have been numerous appeals made on his behalf none of the rulings however has been made in his favour, and Leonard Peltier was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. Among his supporters and on his defence is Leonard Peltier himself who termed the accusations as both false and ones that were based on false evidence and testimony.
Although the claim of murder are still unknown, the process in which the case conducted remains questionable and one that reveal the United State dark side (Jaimes). Key witnesses were banned from testifying about FBI misconduct and testimony and also on the conditions and atmosphere on Pine Ridge Reservation during the time of the shoot-out. The request by the jury to reread the testimony presented by Michael Anderson accounting his activities at the shoot-out scene and the statements of Leonard Peltier himself in his testimony was dismissed by Judge Benson with the government approval.
Leonard’s supporters consider the Americans point of argument as mere fabrications, full of inconsistencies and contradictions that leaves one wondering on what really happened on June, 26 1975 and whether Leonard Peltier got a fair trial. There were other troubling information like the fact that the agents with no form of doubt had followed a red pick up truck onto the place the shoot out took place and not the red and white van driven by Peltier, evidence against other suspects existed but was never brought into the light.
“Once we consider all the coerced testimony, the suppression and fabrication, full of inconsistencies and contradictions in the government…we are forced to ask ourselves a final troubling question…” (Messerchmint 112). Leonard some moments before his sentencing made a brief statement concerning the issue that Judge Benson was biased in the case and clearly favoured the government all through. He felt and still feels that this was not only an injustice done against him but to his marginalized Native Americans at large whom he presented in his fight for equality.
Those on his defence too felt that Peltier case was a scapegoat and one case in many others that the native American who are minority have faced in the cruel hands of the white racist Americans. In any case every Indian person present at Oglala the day of the “incident” has maintained that no one was guilty, it was for self defence and defence of women and children there that day against FBI attack. (Messerchmint 115) On the other hand there are those others who feel that Leonard is nothing more than a brutal killer, first degree murderer who deserved the jail term and if freed is a threat to nation peace.
This include the American government and more so the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Leonard Peltier as claimed by the FBI was identified as the person in possession of the weapon that fired those specific bullets. Close associates of Peltier were also found in possession of weapons after a car exploded at Kansas Turmpike near Wishita, Kansas. In September 22 1991, Peltier is said to have confessed firing at agents Williams and Coler during a sixty minutes interview on the television (NPPA)
According to the federal bureau of investigation review there were facts preceding the incidents that led to the allocation of agents into Pine Ridge Village reservation. Crimes on the reservations had increased and it is even believed that Peltier was heading a group of Indians involved in burglaries and one of them a name by Norman Charles had fired at the agents on the day of the murders. There was a released warrant on Peltier for Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP) after his attempted murder to kill a police officer in Milwaukee.
(Glisson 289) In its defence against Leonard’s innocence the FBI preview provides facts that led the judge to deny the appeals made by accused. During the first trial referred as Cedar Rapids Trial in 1976 Peltier was in custody in Canada and the suspects of the murders presents included only Robideau and Butler (Peltier, L. F. ). These two were released on the grounds that they only came to the shoot-out scene after hearing gun fires from a camp which was short distance away and not aware that the agents were law enforcements officers.
Their case was of self defence. The two government’s witnesses Angie Long Visitor and Michael Anderson were not available during the trial for they could not be located at all. Cedar Rapids trial also known as Butler trial was different from Peltier trial in the fact that the two government’s witnesses were present. The government was not allowed to provide evidence connecting Butter to shell casings fired from the agents’ handgun which were found in an area near his arrest. The same evidence was however provided during Peltier’s case.
The testimony about the FBI past activities which created an environment full of fear in the reservation was only heard during Robideau/Butler trial and not Peltier trial. The jury argued that the testimony was in no way related to innocence of Peltier or his guilt and Butler and Robideau theory of self defence worked in their favour. (Johansen 56-57) During the Peltier trial, the FBI argued that trial was recessed for ten days which gave the government ample time to prepare their presentations.
The Fargo trial of Leonard Peltier came later to address the problems resulting from Cedar Rapids Trial which made a ruling to gag lawyers and no FBI was to be questioned or put on trial unless there was a direct connection to evidence or witness to the case upon government request. Facts argued and submitted to the jury identified Peltier as guilty of many charges including heading a gang of Indians that were involved in shooting at the agents, also even if not direct he may have aided the shooters or helped in covering up the killers.
(Marcos and Leon 82) Peltier’s supporters consider him a role model who is in prison purely for his Fight for the oppressed Native American. Leonard is believed to have in the hands of two policemen where he was beaten severely and then charged with attempted murder of the same cops. Peltier spent five months in jail, tried and was later acquitted. During the trial one of the policemen’s former girlfriends testified that around the time of the incident he had shown her a picture of Peltier and boasted of “catching a big one for the FBI” (Johansen 292) .
Therefore Pine Ridge was a place of upcoming activism by traditional Oglala Lakota against oppression and regain control of their lands taken by federal authorities. In conclusion whatever struggle Leonard may have gone through has proved himself to be a man of integrity, great teachings through is artistic work. His effort in trying to bring peace for those with history of animosity and charitable work in helping the needy has earned him great respect and awards Leonard has chosen an eventual path of harmony and one that offers self fulfilment and peace.
Disparity still remains and prominent personalities and organisations have not been left behind with their viewpoints concerning the issues those against his innocence would stick to Vincent Bugloisi remarks that people are entitled to their own opinions; they are not entitled to their own facts. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation Report Peltier has filed a number of civil lawsuit which the government has dismissed since there is no sufficient changes and circumstances to warrant courts consideration.
Works Cited: Churchill, W.and Wall, J. V. Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. South End Press, 2002; 304 http://books. google. co. ke/books? id=uP8YRoyyNVwC&pg=PA304&dq=Peltier+ Leonard&client=firefox-a De Leon, D. Leaders from the 1960s: A Biographical Sourcebook of American Activism Greenwood Publishing Group, 1994; 134 available at http://books. google. co. ke/books? id=M5O66pLg_MC&pg=PA134&dq=Peltier eonard&client=firefox-a Glisson, S. M. The Human Tradition in the Civil Rights Movement.
Rowman & Littlefield, 2006; 289 http://books. google. co. ke/books? id=ao2DSDX5R3QC&pg=PA289&dq=Peltier+ Leonard&lr=&client=firefox-a Jaimes, M. A. The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistant South End Press, 1992. Available at http://www. leonardpeltier. net/theman. htm Johansen, Bruce E. The Native Peoples of North America: A History. Rutgers University Press, 2006 http://books. google. co. ke/books? id=yiKgBuSUPUIC&pg=RA1- PA347&dq=Peltier+Leonard&lr=&client=firefox-a Peltier Association (NPPA) Peltier. November 22, 2007 Available at