MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Supporters of American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, who has spent most of his life in prison in the killing of two FBI agents in South Dakota in 1975, hope President Barack Obama will grant him clemency and shorten his sentence to the four decades he has already served before Obama leaves office Friday.
Among those supporting Peltier's last-ditch bid for freedom is Pope Francis, who wrote to the White House on Tuesday, Peltier's attorney, Martin Garbus, said Wednesday.
"We'll see if that has any effect," Garbus said. "We have not had a denial of the clemency application."
The White House declined to comment on deliberations about clemency for Peltier or most people who have sought it in the closing days of his administration. Peltier was not on the list of 273 people granted commutations or pardons Tuesday. The White House has said Obama would grant more commutations Thursday, though officials said those would focus on drug offenders and would not likely include any other famous names.
Peltier's supporters argue he was wrongly convicted in the killings of FBI agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams during a shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on June 26, 1975. He has exhausted his appeals and his requests for parole have been denied. The FBI maintains he is guilty, leaving presidential clemency as his last hope. Peltier's supporters presume he has no chance after Donald Trump becomes president.
Now 72, Peltier is incarcerated at the federal prison is Coleman, Florida. The International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee says he's in poor health.
"If the president doesn't grant clemency, he's condemning him to death in prison," said former U.S. Attorney James Reynolds, who oversaw post-trial actions in the case following Peltier's conviction in 1977 and wrote to Obama last year.
Peltier was a leader of the American Indian Movement, which grabbed headlines in 1973 when it took over the village of Wounded Knee on the reservation, leading to a 71-day standoff with federal agents. Tensions between AIM and the government remained high for years, proving the backdrop for the fatal confrontation, where both agents were shot in the head at close range. Peltier was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.
International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee: http://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info
FBI summary of the Peltier case: https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/resmurs-case-reservation-murders