Leonard Peltier is running out of time. At 71, the Native American activist who was convicted—many believe wrongly—of the murder of two FBI agents in 1975, has served 41 years in prison, six of them in solitary confinement. He is sick with diabetes, has suffered a stroke, and was recently diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm. Yet, with no option for parole until 2024, he will almost certainly die behind bars—unless President Barack Obama, the one person with the power to commute his sentence, grants Peltier the chance to live his last years in freedom.
Earlier this year, legendary trial lawyer Martin Garbus asked Obama to do just that. On February 19, he filed a petition for clemency and an application for compassionate release to the president on Peltier’s behalf. He was joined in this effort by Cynthia K. Dunne, a former assistant US Attorney, and Carl Nadler, an attorney with Arnold and Porter.
In their five-page letter, reprinted in full below, the three lawyers emphasize the “reconciliatory” role that granting Peltier clemency could play and the injustice of his original trial. They urge Obama to “examine the case and circumstances surrounding Mr. Peltier’s conviction through a lens that looks beyond the emotional and institutional objections.” They implore him “to stand on the side of history that sends a message throughout Indian Country that American Indians are valued members of society and are entitled to the full protections of the laws.”
This is not the first time the former American Indian Movement activist has appealed for clemency. In 2000, as then-President Bill Clinton’s second term was coming to a close, Peltier submitted a petition for clemency. Peltier’s daughter has written that she and others believed that Clinton was close to granting him a pardon but that the pPresident backed down after hundreds of FBI personnel protested outside the White House. Soon after, Clinton left office, George W. Bush came to power, and Peltier remained in prison. Marc Rich, a fugitive financier, went free.
Garbus says that he and his colleagues have yet to hear a response to their letter from the Obama administration. Still, they are holding out hope that the president will dig deep into the humanitarian recesses of his heart and grant clemency to a man who is still hailed as a leader among Native Americans. Obama—and, by extension, Peltier—has until Friday, January 20, 2017.
Dear President Obama:
We respectfully and urgently request that you grant our client Leonard Peltier Executive Clemency, and commute his sentence to the forty years he has already served. We respectfully submit that when considered in the context of the unique circumstances surrounding Mr. Peltier’s case, the time has come for the interests of the law enforcement community to be balanced against principles of fundamental fairness, reconciliation and healing.