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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 April, 2004, 04:49 GMT 05:49 UK
Native American prisoner to fight on
by Chris Summers
BBC News Online

Native American activist Leonard Peltier has spent 28 years in prison for a crime he says he did not commit - the cold-blooded murder of two FBI agents on an Indian reservation in the summer of 1975. On Friday, as another activist was jailed for life for a murder on the same reservation, BBC News Online spoke to Peltier's lawyer Barry Bachrach.

Leonard Peltier
Leonard Peltier is not due for parole until 2008 at the earliest
A ticker on the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee website counts the days, hours, minutes and seconds that he has served in prison.

It currently stands at 10,305 days.

Peltier was convicted of the murder, on 26 June 1975, of FBI agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams.

The pair had been involved in a firefight with members of the American Indian Movement (Aim) on a property, known as the Jumping Bull site, on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.

Both were finished off, at close range, by their killers.

Peltier has always admitted he was on the Jumping Bull site on that day but he claims he escaped, along with other Aim activists, before the agents were killed.

'He knows who did it'

Arlo Looking Cloud in picture from Denver police
This was not a trial about Arlo Looking Cloud. They couldn't care less about Arlo. It was about putting to rest the Aim and getting some more shots in at Leonard. They want to make sure he never gets out
Barry Bachrach
Leonard Peltier's lawyer
His lawyer, Barry Bachrach, told BBC News Online: "He has heard rumours about who did it but he will not reveal it."

Mr Bachrach is currently preparing an appeal, challenging the Parole Commission's right to set Peltier's parole date, bearing in mind its record of "arbitrary and capricious" decisions.

On Friday a former AIM activist, Arlo Looking Cloud, was jailed for life for the murder of a colleague, Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, whose body was found on the Pine Ridge reservation in February 1976. The trial heard she was killed because she was suspected of being an FBI informant.

Pine Ridge is home to the Oglala Sioux tribe, whose famous ancestor was the warrior Crazy Horse.

Mr Bachrach said: "Arlo's trial was a farce. It was a set-up. This was not a trial about Arlo Looking Cloud. They couldn't care less about Arlo. It was about putting to rest the AIM and getting some more shots in at Leonard. They want to make sure he never gets out."

He said: "What is important to bear in mind is that this (Pine Ridge) was a war zone. At the time - between 1973 and 1976 - it was known as the "reign of terror".

'Terrorising people'

"During this time Dick Wilson (the former tribal chief, now deceased) hired a group known as the Guardians Of the Oglala Nation (Goon), and they were terrorising people.

"Wilson was leasing and hiring land, rich with uranium deposits, to energy companies.

"The US Government and the FBI were supporting Dick Wilson and his Goons, who committed more than 60 murders which were uninvestigated."

Mr Bachrach said: "The only one of these 60 murders which anybody has bothered to reinvestigate was Anna Mae's."

Arlo Looking Cloud's trial heard evidence from Darlene "Kamook" Nichols, the former wife of one-time Aim leader Dennis Banks.

Anna Mae Aquash
Peltier denies threatening Anna Mae with a gun
She claimed Anna Mae was challenged about being an FBI informant at a convention in New Mexico in June 1975.

Ms Nichols testified that Peltier threatened Anna Mae with a gun and added: "She told him that if he believed that he should go ahead and shoot her."

Mr Bachrach said he visited Peltier last week at Leavenworth penitentiary in Kansas: "I asked Leonard about what Kamook said. He said he was asked to inquire of Anna Mae if she was working for the FBI and he took her into a teepee in Farmington, New Mexico to talk to her. But it's false to say he struck a gun in her mouth."

Ms Nichols also told the trial that Anna Mae had said Peltier later bragged about killing the two FBI agents.

Mr Bachrach said: "This case was nothing more than smearsay. They coached Kamook and she admitted she had been paid $40,000 by the FBI. Her evidence should never have seen the light of day."

'Betrayed'

He said: "Leonard feels very betrayed by Kamook. It's very hurtful for someone you think is a friend to lie about you."

He added: "Why would he brag about killing the agents if he suspected she was an informant?"

Map of South Dakota
Pine Ridge is home to the Oglala Sioux nation
Peltier is one of the best-known alleged miscarriages of justice victims in the United States.

In the past he has received messages of support from Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, British MP Tony Benn and numerous actors, including Robert Redford and Winona Ryder.

Mr Bachrach said: "We are not going to go away. This is an injustice and a government cover-up and we are just not going to go away until Leonard is released and even when he is released we will not go away."

He recently wrote to the US Congress asking them to widen an investigation into FBI misconduct in Boston, Massachusetts (involving mafia boss James "Whitey" Bulger) to include alleged misconduct among FBI agents in South Dakota in the 1970s.




SEE ALSO:
Man jailed for killing activist
23 Apr 04  |  Americas
Murder mystery on the reservation
02 Feb 04  |  Americas


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