A coalition of mostly House and Senate Democrats penned a letter to President Biden on Friday urging him to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, a Native American activist convicted in the 1970s of fatally shooting two FBI agents at point-blank range.
The Democrats – led by House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and joined by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. – cast doubt on the circumstances under which Peltier was found guilty in 1977 of killing the two agents two years prior. The letter was sent ahead of Indigenous People’s Day on Oct. 9. One House Republican has also signed on to the letter.
“As Members of Congress, we sign this letter with a deep commitment to the crucial role we play in upholding justice for all Americans – and to also hold our government accountable when we see a case of injustice, as demonstrated by the long incarceration of Leonard Peltier,” the lawmakers wrote to Biden. ” We stand with the Tribal Nations of the United States, Indigenous voices worldwide, and leading voices on human rights and criminal justice around the globe in support of Mr. Peltier’s release.”
“Over the course of his incarceration, particularly in recent years, key figures involved in Mr. Peltier’s prosecution have stepped forward to underscore the constitutional violations and prosecutorial misconduct that took place during the investigation and trial that led to his conviction,” the letter continued.
The Democratic lawmakers also noted in their letter to President Biden that Peltier is 79 years old, is suffering from numerous health issues, has been imprisoned for nearly five decades, and is currently being held in a high-security prison in Florida.
In 1977, after a 25-day trial, Peltier was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences of murdering FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams during a shootout in June 1975 at Jumping Bull Ranch located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
The two agents entered the reservation to arrest an individual wanted for burglary before they engaged in the shootout with several individuals, including Peltier. The agents were wounded by gunfire before they were ultimately murdered, the court found, by Peltier at point-blank range. Peltier fled after the shooting to Canada, where he was captured and extradited back to America to stand trial.
While he, Democrats and various activist organizations have repeatedly claimed the trial was marked by lack of sufficient evidence proving he killed the agents, Peltier’s conviction has been upheld several times on appeal, even after making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court on two occasions, in 1979 and 2004. The U.S. Parole Commission rejected Peltier’s request for parole in 2009.
“We in the Federal Bureau of Investigation vehemently oppose granting Mr. Peltier parole,” former FBI Executive Assistant Director Thomas Harrington remarked in a statement during the parole proceedings.
“The intentional and vicious attack by Mr. Peltier was not simply a blatant attack on two FBI special agents; it was an attack on law enforcement as a whole – an attack on the rule of law,” Harrington said. “The inevitable haziness brought on by the passage of time does not diminish the brutality of the crimes or the lifelong torment to the surviving families.”
And the FBI Agents Association (FBIAA), a professional association that mainly represents active FBI special agents, has repeatedly argued against granting Peltier clemency. As part of that effort, the group penned a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland in late 2021, stating the facts of the case and expressing concern that advocates are “working to mislead the public, the Department of Justice, and the White House.”
“The FBI Agents Association strongly opposed executive clemency for Leonard Peltier,” FBIAA President Natalie Bara told Fox News Digital in a statement Friday. “Activists sympathetic to Peltier continue to mislead elected officials and the public in order to secure an early release for this unremorseful murderer of FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams.”
“FBIAA will continue to counter these efforts, and we stand with the entire FBI family in our determination to ensure that Peltier serves his full sentence.”
In addition to Grijalva, Jayapal, Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders, Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ted Lieu, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush and Ilhan Omar also signed the letter. A single Republican, Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, has also signed the letter.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.