(5) On June 26,
1975 two FBI agents, Mr. Jack Coler and Mr. Ron Williams, entered the
Jumping Bull Ranch, private property. They allegedly
sought to arrest a young Native American man they believed they
had seen in a red pick up truck. A large number of AIM supporters
were camping on the property at the time. They had been invited there
by the Jumping Bull elders, who sought protection. Many non-Aim
persons were present as well. A shoot out began between the two
vehicles, trapping a family with small children in the cross fire.
From throughout the ranch, people screamed that they were under
attack, and many hurried to return fire. When the skirmish ended, the
two FBI agents were dead. They had been wounded, and someone had shot
them at close range through the heads. Today, the United States
Attorney admits that no one knows who fired the fatal shots. The red
pick up truck escaped from the ranch and was never found or
The more than
thirty AIM men, women and children present on the ranch were then
surrounded by over 150 FBI agents, SWAT team members, BIA police and
local posse members, and barely escaped through a hail of bullets.
When the gun fight ended, a young Native American named Joe Stuntz
lay dead, shot through the head by a sniper bullet. His killing was
(6) Clearly the
killings of Mr. Stuntz and the two agents under such conditions
represents a tragedy for all three the men and their families.
However, it is equally clear that an unfair trial and the 27 year
imprisonment of an innocent man is also a great tragedy. More
critically, such a situation endangers the most basic tenets of our
system of justice. Official vengeance can never be allowed to replace
the due process of the law.
(7) As noted by Judge
Heaney of the Court of Appeals of the Eighth Circuit, in his 1991
letter to Senator Inouye, "The United States government
overreacted at Wounded Knee. Instead of carefully considering the
legitimate grievances of the Native Americans, the response was
essentially a military one which culminated in the deadly firefight
on June 26, 1975 .... The United States government must share
responsibility with the Native Americans for the ... firefight ...
the government's role can properly be considered a mitigating
circumstance. Judge Heaney, in this letter, (attached
hereto), recommended clemency/commutation of sentence for Mr.
Peltier as part of the healing process.
(8) Mr. Leonard
Peltier was one of several high level AIM leaders present during the
shoot out. Murder charges were brought against him, as well as his
two friends and colleagues, Dino Butler and Bob Robideau, who had
been present throughout the incident. Butler and Robideau stood trial
separately from Leonard Peltier, who had fled to Canada, convinced he
would never receive a fair trial in the United States. At the trial
of Butler and Robideau a key prosecution witness, Mr. Draper,
admitted that he had been threatened by the FBI and as a result had
changed his testimony upon the agents' instructions, so as to support
the government's position . The jury found both men not guilty. They
found that there was no evidence to link the defendants to the fatal
shots. Moreover, the exchange of gun fire from a distance was deemed
to have constituted an act of self defense.
(9) Mr. Leonard
Peltier was extradited from Canada on the basis of an affidavit
signed by a Myrtle Poor Bear, a local Native American woman known to
have serious mental problems. She claimed to have been Mr. Peltier's
girl friend at the time, and to have been present during the shoot
out, and to have witnessed the murders. In fact she did not know Mr.
Peltier, nor was she present at the time of the shooting. She later
confessed she had given the false statement after being pressured and
terrorized by FBI agents, one of whom had also been involved in the
falsification of Mr. Moves Camp's testimony earlier. Myrtle Poor Bear
sought to testify in this regard at Leonard Peltier's trial. The
judge barred her testimony on the grounds of mental incompetence.
Nothing was done with regards to the illegal
extradition. (Myrtle Poor Bear had also been forced to sign a
similar affidavit against yet another local Native American named
Dick Marshall. Again she claimed to have been his girl friend, and
linked him to a separate murder. This too she recanted. )
(10) No known
witnesses exist as to the actual shooting of the FBI agents Coler and
Williams. Three adolescents gave inconclusive and vague testimonies,
contradicting their own earlier statements as well as each other. All
three witnesses admitted they had been seriously threatened and
intimidated by FBI agents.
(11) Critical ballistic
information reflecting Mr. Peltier's innocence was withheld from
the defense team, making a fair trial impossible. Specifically, at
the trial, the FBI ballistic expert, Evan Hodge, testified that he
had been unable to perform the best test, a firing pin test, on
certain casings found near the agents' car, because the rifle in
question had been damaged in a fire. Instead, he stated that he had
conducted an extractor mark test, and found the casing and weapon to match.
documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showed that
in October 1975 a firing pin ballistic test had indeed been performed
on the rifle and that the results were
clearly negative. In short, the fatal bullet did not come from
Leonard Peltier's weapon. The jury never heard about any of these
disturbing are the numerous discrepancies regarding the key vehicle
in the case. Agents Williams and Coler had radioed that they were
chasing a red pick up truck, which they believed was transporting a
suspect. The chase lead to the Jumping Bull Ranch and the fatal shoot
out. At trial however, the evidence had changed to described a red
and white van, quite a different vehicle, and which not
coincidentally was more easily linked to Mr. Peltier.
(13) The Court, at
Mr. Peltier's murder trial, did not permit the jury to learn of the
FBI's pattern and practice of using false affidavits and of
intimidating witnesses in recent related cases. The jury was thus
unable to properly evaluate the prosecution witnesses' testimony. In
the trials of other AIM leaders, such evidence had been admitted.
(14) There was no
witness testimony that Leonard Peltier actually shot the two FBI
agents. There is no witness testimony that placed Mr. Peltier near
the crime scene before the murders occurred. Those witnesses placing
Peltier, Robideau and Butler near the crime scene after the killing
were coerced and intimidated by the FBI. There is no forensic
evidence as to the exact type of rifle used to commit the murders.
Several different weapons present in the area during the shoot out
could have caused the fatal injuries. There was more than one AR-15
in the area at the time of the shoot out. The AR-15 rifle claimed to
be Mr. Peltier's was found to be incompatible with the bullet casing
near the agents' car. Although other bullets were fired at the crime
scene, no other casings or evidence about them were offered by the
Prosecutor's office. In short there is no reasonable evidence that
Mr. Peltier committed the murders. Instead there is very strong
evidence of FBI misconduct.
(15) Some 6,000
FBI documents are still being withheld in their entirety from
Mr. Leonard Peltier, as are some 5,000 partial documents. There is
clearly no current reason to fear national security risks, or the
disruption of ongoing investigations. Moreover, based on the critical
nature of those documents which have been disclosed, such as the
ballistic tests reports, it is reasonable to conclude that the
remaining files would contain evidence that would help to establish
Mr. Peltier's innocence. This situation violates his rights to access
to the courts and to a fair trial.
Mr. Peltier's attorneys filed a new round of Freedom of Information
Act requests with FBI Headquarters and various FBI field offices in
an attempt to secure the release of additional documents concerning
Mr. Peltier. Although the FBI has engaged in a number of dilatory
tactics in order to avoid the processing of these requests, 30,000
additional FOIA documents were released in June 2002. Previously,
according to the FBI, more than 6,000 full documents remained
undisclosed. The 30,000 documents released in 2002 reveal the FBI's
prior estimate to be a significant undercount of actual documents
still withheld. Currently, FOIA requests submitted to 30 FBI field
offices around the country are pending. Similar FOIA requests have
been submitted to the CIA. Nonresponsive agency letters following the
recent requests have resulted in FOIA Complaints filed by Peltier's
attorneys against the FBI, CIA and the Executive Office of United
States Attorneys. For a more detailed update, see the report
from Mr. Peltier's legal team.