Killer Hearing

“A parole hearing was held Monday for Indigenous activist Leonard Peltier,” the Associated Press reports. As Sir Bedevire (Terry Jones) might wonder, who is this who is so wise in the ways of Indigenous People, and why does he seek parole? As the AP explains, Peltier has “spent most of his life in prison since his conviction in the 1975 killings of two FBI agents in South Dakota.” So the hearing was for convicted murderer Leonard Peltier, a career criminal.

In 1972 Peltier got five months in jail for attempting to shoot a policeman, and after release went underground. In 1974, Peltier was arrested on Mercer Island, Washington, giving the name of Leonard Little. He was charged with possession of illegal weapons, and fugitive alerts described him as “armed and dangerous.” In 1975, Peltier was living on the Pine Ridge reservation and acting as an enforcer for the American Indian Movement, which in 1973 seized the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, and held it for 71 days.

On June 26, 1975, FBI agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler came to Pine Ridge looking for Jimmy Eagle, wanted on assault charges. Williams sent a radio report of rifle fire from behind a row of junked cars. When Coler attempted to retrieved a rifle from the trunk of his car, bullets blasted through the lid severely wounding the agent.

Coler crawled into the car, shredded by volleys of gunfire. Williams was also hit and attempted to surrender. The agent raised a hand and pleaded for his life, but the shooter, later identified as Peltier, fired an AR-15 into his hand and then shot him in the head. Peltier also shot Jack Coler in the head, and both men were shot again after they were dead — what police call “overkill.”

While on the run, Peltier shot it out with Oregon policemen, who stopped his motor home. Peltier fled to Canada but was eventually extradited. At his 1977 trial in Fargo, North Dakota, a jury took 10 hours to convict Peltier on two counts of murder and sentenced him to two life terms in federal prison. The convicted murderer quickly became a hero to the left.

William Kunstler took up Peltier’s case, and in 1987 the convicted murderer sought asylum in the Soviet Union, claiming there was “no justice for my people” in the United States. Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump failed to free Peltier, but the murderer’s fans aren’t giving up. “The president should grant clemency to Native American rights activist Leonard Peltier,” tweeted fake Cherokee Elizabeth Warren last November.

Full disclosure: I wrote about Peltier for the January 2000 issue of Heterodoxy, and colleague Peter Collier composed the headline: “Bury His Heart.” Should have been done a long time ago. According to the AP, a federal parole commission will render a decision in 21 days. As Trump says, we’ll have to see what happens.

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