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DENNIS BANKS ON LEONARD PELTIER

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DENNIS BANKS ON LEONARD PELTIER

The case of Leonard Peltier requires extensive discussion and
examination. For seventeen years, we have relied on the higher courts to
overturn the lower court decisions owing to irregularities we felt were
inconsistent with a fair trial in Fargo, North Dakota. Yet the Supreme Court
denied the final appeal which terminates the legal avenues of Leonard’s chance
for a new trial. And so, we have to now take it out of the legal arena and bring
it into the Executive Branch, asking President Clinton for Executive Clemency
for Leonard Peltier. We must begin to approach the freedom of Peltier as an
issue of morality, an issue of clemency.

First we must look at the issue of clemency as one of right and
wrong as opposed to legal or illegal. There were many wrongs and irregularities
which occurred during the trial. The prosecution has admitted that the FBI had
indeed fabricated and withheld evidence which would have been beneficial to the
defense. There were also wrongs that happened prior to the actual trial
including how Myrtle Poor Bear was used to gain extradition of Leonard Peltier
from Canada.

The other issue is clemency itself based upon some hard facts
of the case, i.e., the admission by the federal prosecutor, Lynn Crook, that the
government does not actually know who killed the agents. However, over 18 years
ago, he told the jury hearing the case that Peltier had in fact shot the agents
point blank. The conflict arises from the scenario  that the prosecution
painted to a jury from an area of North Dakota that has been historically biased
against Native people. Another consideration is the fact that the FBI went
"judge shopping" to find a court that was willing to appease the federal
government and the FBI, a blueprint for conviction and sentencing.

Peltier was also a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM)
which had been targeted and labeled by the FBI as a terrorist organization. They
had lost a major feild battle against AIM at wounded Knee in 1973 and were
intent upon destroying the group and its leadership.

At the time of the shooting at Oglala, a camp of AIM leaders
and supporters, including women and children, were situated at the Jumping Bull
Ranch at Pine Ridge Reservation. Two FBI agents allegedly had a warrant for
a man named Jimmy Eagle who was charged with stealing a pair of cowboy boots.
They drove on the Jumping Bull property supposedly following this man in a red
pickup. What followed exactly is unknown.

What is known is that gunfire erupted and those in the camp
were only aware that unknown assailants were firing upon them. With women and
children present, their response was return of fire. Within a short time,
the farm was filled with 200 FBI agents and federal police. People at the camp
escaped through the hills, escorted and hidden by members of the local
community. When it was all over one of our security people, Joe Stuntz, and two
FBI agents were dead. No one has ever been charged with the murder of
Stuntz.

The FBI then launched the largest manhunt in us history. The
FBI press releases portrayed AIM as a terrorist group that had murdered
federal agents. Peltier, Robideau, and Butler were charged with the murders
Robideau and Butler were tried in Iowa and found not guilty based upon the
self-defense theory. This showed that we did not know who was shooting at us,
and, not knowing that, the fire was returned in
self-defense.

Peltier was tried later after an extradition from Canada
based on fabricated accounts by Myrtle Poor Bear, who was coerced by government
agents. Peltier was not permitted to use the self-defense theory preventing much
of the evidence from being presented to the jury. Other evidence was
withheld, lost, fabricated and misinterpreted. Not until the Freedom of
Information Act did much of the misinformation by the prosecution and government
become available.

And yet Leonard Peltier remains in prison. In a letter to
Senator Inouye, Judge Heaney of the Eighth Circuit Court outlines five reasons
why Leonard Peltier should be free. He concludes with the statement that the
healing process must begin. However the healing cannot begin until the wounding
ends. Peltier’s continued incarceration is the open wound that festers every
day.

WE DEMAND EXECUTIVE CLEMENCY FOR LEONARD
PELTIER, GIVEN NOT ON THE BASIS OF FORGIVENESS,
AS A PARDON WOULD SUGGEST, BUT BASED UPON
THE BELIEF OF WHAT IS RIGHT AND WHAT IS WRONG.
FOR PELTIER TO REMAIN IN PRISON IS WRONG.
EXECUTIVE CLEMENCY WOULD BE THE ONLY  JUST
AND MORAL WAY TO HEAL THIS WOUND.

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