Leonard Peltier Denied Parole After Nearly 50 Years In Prison


Leonard Peltier was denied parole on Tuesday, meaning there’s likely only one other way the ailing, 79-year-old Native American rights activist will ever be released after serving nearly 50 years in prison: If President Joe Biden intervenes and commutes his sentence.

Peltier has been in prison since 1977 when the U.S. government convicted him for killing two FBI agents in a 1975 shoot-out on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

His trial was full of misconduct, including federal prosecutors hiding evidence that exonerated Peltier and the FBI threatening witnesses into lying to blame Peltier. The government’s case fell apart after these revelations, so it quickly revised its charges against Peltier to aiding and abetting whoever did kill those agents — on the grounds that he was one of dozens of people who were on the reservation when the shoot-out occurred.

There was never evidence that Peltier committed a crime. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office never did figure out who killed those agents.

The FBI continues to oppose Peltier’s release and is the main reason, if not the only reason, that he’s still in prison. But its reasons for opposing Peltier’s release are full of holes and remarkably easy to disprove.

The FBI has not publicly addressed the key context of that 1975 shoot-out: The FBI was intentionally fueling tensions on that reservation as part of a covert campaign to suppress the activities of the American Indian Movement, or AIM, a grassroots movement for Indigenous rights. Peltier was an active AIM member and an FBI target.

Peltier has maintained his innocence the entire time he’s been in prison. It has almost certainly contributed to him being denied parole.

Prior to Tuesday, the last time Peltier was denied parole was in 2009. He is unlikely to live long enough to try for parole again, given the years-long process it takes, his advanced age and poor healthPeltier has diabetes and an aortic aneurysm.

Leonard Peltier, nearly 80, was denied parole again after serving nearly 50 years in prison. It's on President Joe Biden now to decide if he can ever go home.Leonard Peltier, nearly 80, was denied parole again after serving nearly 50 years in prison. It's on President Joe Biden now to decide if he can ever go home.

Leonard Peltier, nearly 80, was denied parole again after serving nearly 50 years in prison. It’s on President Joe Biden now to decide if he can ever go home. via Associated Press

In his parole hearing last month, Peltier’s team made the case that he be allowed to live out his final years in home confinement, with his family and tribe in North Dakota. His supporters have set up a house for him there. Currently, Peltier spends most days confined to a cell with inches of space to move within, as his maximum security prison in Florida is regularly in a state of lockdown. He requires a walker to get around. He is blind in one eye from a stroke.

Biden is likely Peltier’s last best hope for going home. The president has the authority to unilaterally release him at any time.

So far, he hasn’t said a thing about Peltier.

In a rare interview in 2022, the imprisoned Native American rights activist said he knew what he would say to Biden if he had five minutes alone with him.

“I’m not guilty of this shooting. I’m not guilty,” he told HuffPost. “I would like to go home to spend what years I have left with my great-grandkids and my people.”

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