despite having spent almost 27 years in prison, has consistently been
denied the basic right to a parole hearing by the U.S. government.
The native activist was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a
range war on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in 1976. But he has
always denied having a role in their deaths, and troubling questions
surrounding his case have never been fully answered.
Now, there is at
least a glimmer of hope for Peltier. His legal team is appealing to
Denver's 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals with the hope that
Peltier will finally be granted a parole hearing. The only time a
parole hearing has been scheduled for Peltier was in 1986, and that
hearing was inexplicably delayed until 2008 ? even though he had
already served the mandatory 200 months that apply in most cases
continues to be a source of embarrassment for our country. In 1976,
Peltier was extradited from Canada under questionable circumstances
for the murders. He was convicted in the U.S. one year later. Peltier
continues to serve two concurrent life sentences.
extradition from Canada was based solely on the testimony contained
in affidavits from Myrtle Poor Bear, who said she was Peltier's
girlfriend when the shootings occurred. She also claimed to have
witnessed the murder of the agents, and wrote detailed accounts to
But Poor Bear did
not turn out to be a credible witness. She recently told a privately
commissioned legal inquiry that she not only had never met or lived
with Peltier, she wasn't even at the reserve. She added that FBI
agents pressured her to make up the entire story to implicate Peltier.
As well, the FBI
ballistics evidence used at Peltier's trial was later shown to be
questionable and in part fabricated. Yet despite the lingering
questions about the case, and the sense that Peltier was railroaded,
neither the Canadian or U.S. government has made any attempt to
review the native activist's case.
But the failure to
give Peltier a fair hearing has led scores of high-profile
individuals to support Peltier and demand justice. They include
Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, the Archbishop of
Canterbury, Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford, Oliver Stone, Sarah
McLachlan and members of Blue Rodeo.
A few Canadian
politicians have been actively pursuing the Peltier case, too. Last
year, NDP MP Bill Blaikie introduced a private member's bill calling
for a public inquiry into this case. Canadian Alliance MP John
Reynolds and former Liberal cabinet minister Warren Allmand have
supported Blaikie's bill.
their efforts have not brought the native activist any closer to
freedom. And all of Peltier's legal appeals have failed to date.
Meanwhile, no U.S. president has been willing to grant Peltier
clemency. Amnesty International concluded that Peltier remains a
"political prisoner" who should be "immediately and
To make matters
worse, Peltier's physical health is failing. He suffers from
diabetes, high blood pressure and a heart condition. So bad is his
health that some supporters fear Peltier won't live to see his
scheduled parole hearing in five years time.
It would be a
travesty if Leonard Peltier didn't get his opportunity to finally
have a parole hearing. Canada may not be able to influence the Denver
court's final decision on a parole hearing. But given this country's
complicity in his extradition, it could prove helpful ? even in the
court of public opinion ? for the government to admit that mistakes
Peltier deserves freedom. But so does a sense of fairness.
2003 Windsor Star