Seven U.S. senators on Friday sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland urged him to allow for the compassionate release of American Indian Movement (AIM) rights activists Leonard Peltier (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians).

Led by U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai’i), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Peter Welch (D- Vt.).

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“Mr. Peltier, who has been imprisoned for the past 49 years and is suffering from severe health conditions, should be able to return home and live out his remaining days among his own people,” the senators wrote in the letter to Attorney General Garland. “It is time that the federal government rectifies the grave injustice of Mr. Peltier’s continued imprisonment, and strongly urge you to allow for his compassionate release.”

Leonard Peltier (Photo/Fule)

Peltier was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences in 1977 for the murders of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler. The agents were killed on June 26, 1975 during a confrontation with members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in 1975.

His conviction followed a trial marked by procedural errors and a lack of evidence. As the authors note, “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.”

Civil rights leaders across America and around the world, from Nelson Mandela to the Dalai Lama to Rev. Jesse Jackson, have condemned the verdict as a miscarriage of justice—a miscarriage all too familiar to Indigenous peoples and marginalized communities.

The letter cited Peltier’s 49 years of imprisonment and the severe health issues as reasons for the compassionate plea. The letter says Peltier should be able to return home and live out his remaining days among his own people.

Peltier  is currently imprisoned at Coleman Federal Correction Complex in Coleman, Florida.  

The senators wrote in part: 

“The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) procedures allow its Director to grant a reduction in sentence, or compassionate release, to prisoners that meet certain criteria, including advanced age and deteriorating health; Mr. Peltier is nearly 80 years old and suffers from numerous health conditions, including a potentially fatal abdominal aortic aneurysm.  If the Director of the BOP approves a compassionate release, and the Parole Commission agrees, Mr. Peltier could be released immediately.”

The full letter is also available here.

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Levi Rickert
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Levi “Calm Before the Storm” Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].

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