Will Obama grant Leonard Peltier clemency?

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Last month, a letter in support of clemency for federal prisoner Leonard Peltier was sent to President Obama by former United States Attorney James H. Reynolds, a US attorney who oversaw the Peltier case in 1977.

Supporters believe that Native American activist Leonard Peltier was wrongfully convicted in 1977 for the deaths of two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Imprisoned for over 41 years, Peltier has the support of Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. Over 50 Members of Congress and others—including Judge Gerald Heaney (8th Circuit Court of Appeals) who sat as a member of the court in two of Peltier’s appeals—have all called for his immediate release.

Appellate courts have repeatedly raised questions over government in the Peltier case. A federal prosecutor has twice admitted that the government “can’t prove who shot those agents.” Per the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals “the FBI used improper tactics in securing Peltier’s extradition from Canada and in otherwise investigating and trying the Peltier case.” 

At the time of Peltier’s conviction in 1977 until the mid-1990s, the average length of imprisonment served for homicide in the U.S. prior to being released on parole ranged from 94 to 99.8 months (about 8 years). Supporters contend that in violation of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (and its amendments), the government has illegally extended Peltier’s prison term. Effective on October 12, 1984, the law ordered that parole dates be issued to all “old system” prisoners within the following five-year period, at the end of which time (on October 11, 1989) the U.S. Parole Commission would cease to exist.

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