I am a white woman, and I was in Pine Ridge and
Wounded Knee. The atrocities that were committed were perpetuated by the
FBI and the GOONs. I am a lawyer's daughter, and that same lawyer was a
Special Agent for J. Edgar Hoover, and served his country as a
paratrooper in Korea. I understand the workings of law. Civil injustice
is civil injustice. Please pardon Peltier. Let there be SOME justice in
I was there. Rosebud, South Dakota, Summer 1974. There were rumblings
all around. Some like the buzzing of the bee, not intimidating. Others
were loud, evil grumblings; sounds like the ones attributed to angry
buffalo protecting their young. I was completely out of place - blonde,
blue-eyed, seventeen, and fresh from the small town world of North
I wasn't a country bumpkin, though. I had been well educated by my
better-educated father. He saw to it that I looked at the world through
unjudging eyes. I knew that what I heard and saw was unjust and unfair.
I had known it since I was a small child and had seen most Americans
19th Century heroes depicted on the television engaged in atrocities
against our Native brethren. It was appalling to me that Whites felt it
necessary to engage in that vehement type of discrimination - against
any other people. I just wasn't brought up to believe that I was
superior to anyone of any race. It was a sign of the times, I suppose.
My parents had never taught me to think the way others around me
thought. I went into this new adventure with open eyes and an open mind.
I hadn't aimed for South Dakota, at all. I had been in California
visiting some friends, and was returning to my home. I saw a nerdy guy
on the highway hitch hiking, and picked him up. He was going to South
Dakota - to the first official Sun Dance since the occupation of this
country by outsiders. He was a student at UC Berkley, working on his
Master's thesis in Sociology. It sounded good to me, so I took him. I
went through beautiful countrysides and long well built highways - to a
point. The highways ended at the reservation border. There were
broken-down trailers and cabins, homes built out of road signs and
debris. The conditions of living were hard to accept, for this
middle-class southern girl. But, what I found when I arrived at Crow
Dog's Paradise changed the way I looked at the world forever.
It had nothing to do with the outside toilets - my grandmother had an
outhouse for most of her life. It had nothing to do with the carrying of
water from a distant well. It had to do with the spirit and pride of
those around me, and a culture that was not going to be rubbed out
because other people could not accept it. The People were close to
Nature, as man was intended to be. They strove to live with it,
encourage it, be part of it, in a way I had never encountered. I knew
the woods, the ways of animals and plants. My grandmother had also been
close to the Earth, and took the time to tell me of the old-fashioned
Appalachian ways that lived through her. The People were a bit different
in their approach, but the result was the same. Learn how Mother Earth
operates, and help to take care of her, and she will provide. Simple
I was privileged beyond belief. I was taken under the wing of a tall,
well-made, proud man. He was Henry Crow Dog. I had startled him by
following him into the woods late at night. He said he had never been
followed into the woods by a white woman. He hadn't heard me behind him.
I didn't know whether he had taken to me because of my gift for
woodsiness, or just out of fear of whites. He did start to tell me about
when he was a boy, and there were no whites. I had always had the utmost
respect for older people, and found him to be most gracious. He took me
through the woods to meet people and talked to them about the affairs
going on around us. Some were a little concerned that I was white, and
would speak in Lakota, knowing I would not understand. With a little
assurance, they spoke fearfully of law-enforcement 'officials' and other
who had no business being on sovereign ground. I was taken to a place
where there were tanks tracks on the ground. I saw the bloodstains where
people had fallen when murdered. I was allowed to participate in the
sweat lodge, and other components of the religious ceremonies taking
Crow Dog's wife, Mary Gertrude, also took me under her wing. I was told
about the expectations of a girl's place in the village, and her duties
to her community. I helped with the meals, the children and the Medic. I
earned the right to be a part of the community and was given a lawful
place within it and a Lakota name. Grandpa arranged for me to be
formally adopted when the Medicine men were there. I met Russell Means,
Leonard Crow Dog, Clyde Bellecourt, Dennis Banks and several others. I
learned that Ron Rosen, the Medic, was here to go on his first vision
quest, a right he had earned by his contributions to this wonderful
community. I was taught to make tobacco ties for him and others for
their quest. I learned to find and pick the finest wild sage. I bathed
in the clearest lakes with the other girls my age. This was all
fascinating to me.
The longer I stayed, the more I learned. I heard talk of the GOONs in
Pine Ridge. I heard talk of the FBI's incarceration of people who just
wanted to be heard, and their culture appreciated for its simple beauty.
I heard talk of the National Guard's tanks invading Indian land, where
they had no right to be. Then, one day, it was no longer talk. I saw the
body of a man who had been shot in Pine Ridge by a Native police
officer. He had done nothing, was not even armed at the time. I was
appalled by the nonchalant attitude of those designated as 'officers' at
their murder of an unarmed citizen. Yes, I said Citizen. He had not been
treated as one. I saw the remains of a building that had been the
subject of a bombing late one night. All of the people inside had been
killed, children included. My views were permanently stained.
I went home to North Carolina in the fall. I had sold my car to someone
who needed it far more than I did. I had learned to birth babies, sew
gunshot and knife wounds, and to be a part of something worthwhile. I
learned to distrust law-enforcement officials-people I had grown up
with. After all, my father was an attorney, an ex-FBI agent. Labels that
had taken on a completely different meaning for me. I had learned
skepticism, and distrust of what I knew to be true. I understood the
meaning of friendship and family, though, in an entirely new light.
Fortunately, my newfound friend Ron Rosen kept in touch with me by mail
and phone for years after that summer. He married and became a doctor in
Denver. He told me about some of the further atrocities going on in Pine
Ridge, Wounded Knee and Rosebud, as well as other places. I also heard
from my friend Barbara Eagle on occasion for some time. She and I had
experienced a lot of growing and learning together.
I still felt disconnected to the world I had come back to, long after my
oldest daughter was born. She was raised differently from me. When she
was killed in 1993, she had achieved a sense of self and pride most
people never attain. I had instilled the belief that we are all equals
in an unequal world in her. It can happen, I had discovered through her.
I can not change the way the world works. I still don't know why people
can not accept that others are different from themselves, and appreciate
the differences for what they are. I try to instill that appreciation in
my children and grand child. I wish that Henry Crow Dog was still alive
to introduce them to. I have spent most of my adult life trying to shape
the way the children I have contact with think of people different from
them selves. For, they can change the world. – Marsha Freeman
We, the members and supporters
of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, wish to express our grave
concerns with regard to the denial of justice and due process to Mr.
Leonard Peltier, and his ongoing detention at Leavenworth
Mr. Peltier has been incarcerated for twenty-seven years, despite the
clear indications of misconduct, including the falsification of
evidence, by various U.S. officials which lead to his conviction, as
set forth below. He is now nearly fifty-eight years of age and his
health is beginning to deteriorate. We are therefore asking for your
most urgent attention to this situation.
The facts of this case have long been the subject of intensive
investigation and documentation. We wish to set forth the following
summary for your convenience:
(1) On February 27, 1973, members of the American Indian Movement, or
AIM, together with a number of local and traditional Native Americans
began their seventy-two day occupation of Wounded Knee. Their goal was
to protest injustices against their tribes, violations of the many
treaties, and current abuses and repression against their people. The
United States government responded with a military style assault
against the protesters. In the end, various officials promised
hearings on local conditions and treaty violations. These hearings
were never convened. The use of military force by the U.S. government
was later ruled unlawful.
(2) Throughout the next three years, long referred to by local Native
Americans as the "Reign of Terror," the FBI carried out intensive
local surveillance, as well as the repeated arrests, harassment and
bad faith legal proceedings against AIM leaders and supporters. The
FBI also closely collaborated with and supported the local tribal
chairperson, Dick Wilson, and his selected vigilantes, the "Guardians
of the Oglala nation, or quite literally, the "GOONS. Mr. Wilson was
notorious for his corruption and abuse of power.
During this "Reign of Terror," some sixty-four local Native Americans
were murdered. Three hundred were harassed beaten
or otherwise abused. Virtually all of the victims were either
affiliated with AIM or their allies, the traditional tribe members.
The FBI had jurisdiction to investigate major crimes, yet these deaths
were never adequately investigated or resolved. Nor did the FBI agents
take any measures to curb the violence of GOONS, with whom they were
(3) After Wounded Knee, both Dennis Banks and Russell Means were
brought to trial. The prosecution presented the testimony of a Mr.
Moves Camp. This testimony was shown to be pure fabrication, with
serious implications of FBI misconduct. The judge dismissed the case,
declaring that "the waters of justice have been polluted. (383 F.
Supp., pp.397-8). The jurors asked the U.S. Attorney General not to
appeal the case. (New York Times 26 Sept. 1974, pg.55).
(4) In May of 1975 the FBI began a sizable build up of its agents,
mostly SWAT members, on the reservation. In June 1974 SWAT teams from
numerous divisions were designated for special assignment at Pine
Ridge. Yet the politically related murder rate climbed. A June 1975
FBI memo referred to the potential need for military assault forces to
deal with AIM members. Needless to say, tensions were running
extremely high on all sides.
(5) On June 26, 1975 two FBI
agents, Mr. Jack Coler and Mr. Ron Williams, entered the Jumping Bull
Ranch, private property. They allegedly sought to arrest a young
Native American man they believed they had seen in a red pick up
truck. A large number of AIM supporters were camping on the property
at the time. They had been invited there by the Jumping Bull elders,
who sought protection. Many non-Aim persons were present as well. A
shoot out began between the two vehicles, trapping a family with small
children in the cross fire. From throughout the ranch, people screamed
that they were under attack, and many hurried to return fire. When the
skirmish ended, the two FBI agents were dead. They had been wounded,
and someone had shot them at close range through the heads. Today, the
United States Attorney admits that no one knows who fired the fatal
shots. The red pick up truck escaped from the ranch and was never
found or identified.
The more than thirty AIM men, women and children present on the ranch
were then surrounded by over 150 FBI agents, SWAT team members, BIA
police and local posse members, and barely escaped through a hail of
bullets. When the gun fight ended, a young Native American named Joe
Stuntz lay dead, shot through the head by a sniper bullet. His killing
was never investigated.
(6) Clearly the killings of Mr. Stuntz and the two agents under such
conditions represents a tragedy for all three the men and their
families. However, it is equally clear that an unfair trial and the 27
year imprisonment of an innocent man is also a great tragedy. More
critically, such a situation endangers the most basic tenets of our
system of justice. Official vengeance can never be allowed to replace
the due process of the law.
(7) As noted by Judge Heaney of the Court of Appeals of the Eighth
Circuit, in his 1991 letter to Senator Inouye, "The United States
government overreacted at Wounded Knee. Instead of carefully
considering the legitimate grievances of the Native Americans, the
response was essentially a military one which culminated in the deadly
firefight on June 26, 1975 .... The United States government must
share responsibility with the Native Americans for the ... firefight
... the government's role can properly be considered a mitigating
circumstance. Judge Heaney, in this letter, (attached hereto),
recommended clemency/commutation of sentence for Mr. Peltier as part
of the healing process.
(8) Mr. Leonard Peltier was one of several high level AIM leaders
present during the shoot out. Murder charges were brought against him,
as well as his two friends and colleagues, Dino Butler and Bob
Robideau, who had been present throughout the incident. Butler and
Robideau stood trial separately from Leonard Peltier, who had fled to
Canada, convinced he would never receive a fair trial in the United
States. At the trial of Butler and Robideau a key prosecution witness,
Mr. Draper, admitted that he had been threatened by the FBI and as a
result had changed his testimony upon the agents' instructions, so as
to support the government's position . The jury found both men not
guilty. They found that there was no evidence to link the defendants
to the fatal shots. Moreover, the exchange of gun fire from a distance
was deemed to have constituted an act of self defense.
(9) Mr. Leonard Peltier was extradited from Canada on the basis of an
affidavit signed by a Myrtle Poor Bear, a local Native American woman
known to have serious mental problems. She claimed to have been Mr.
Peltier's girl friend at the time, and to have been present during the
shoot out, and to have witnessed the murders. In fact she did not know
Mr. Peltier, nor was she present at the time of the shooting. She
later confessed she had given the false statement after being
pressured and terrorized by FBI agents, one of whom had also been
involved in the falsification of Mr. Moves Camp's testimony earlier.
Myrtle Poor Bear sought to testify in this regard at Leonard Peltier's
trial. The judge barred her testimony on the grounds of mental
incompetence. Nothing was done with regards to the illegal
extradition. (Myrtle Poor Bear had also been forced to sign a similar
affidavit against yet another local Native American named Dick
Marshall. Again she claimed to have been his girl friend, and linked
him to a separate murder. This too she recanted. )
(10) No known witnesses exist as to the actual shooting of the FBI
agents Coler and Williams. Three adolescents gave inconclusive and
vague testimonies, contradicting their own earlier statements as well
as each other. All three witnesses admitted they had been seriously
threatened and intimidated by FBI agents.
(11) Critical ballistic information reflecting Mr. Peltier's innocence
was withheld from the defense team, making a fair trial impossible.
Specifically, at the trial, the FBI ballistic expert, Evan Hodge,
testified that he had been unable to perform the best test, a firing
pin test, on certain casings found near the agents' car, because the
rifle in question had been damaged in a fire. Instead, he stated that
he had conducted an extractor mark test, and found the casing and
weapon to match.
Years later, documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act
showed that in October 1975 a firing pin ballistic test had indeed
been performed on the rifle and that the results were clearly
negative. In short, the fatal bullet did not come from Leonard
Peltier's weapon. The jury never heard about any of these crucial
(12) Equally disturbing are the numerous discrepancies regarding the
key vehicle in the case. Agents Williams and Coler had radioed that
they were chasing a red pick up truck, which they believed was
transporting a suspect. The chase lead to the Jumping Bull Ranch and
the fatal shoot out. At trial however, the evidence had changed to
described a red and white van, quite a different vehicle, and which
not coincidentally was more easily linked to Mr. Peltier.
(13) The Court, at Mr. Peltier's murder trial, did not permit the jury
to learn of the FBI's pattern and practice of using false affidavits
and of intimidating witnesses in recent related cases. The jury was
thus unable to properly evaluate the prosecution witnesses' testimony.
In the trials of other AIM leaders, such evidence had been admitted.
(14) There was no witness testimony that Leonard Peltier actually shot
the two FBI agents. There is no witness testimony that placed Mr.
Peltier near the crime scene before the murders occurred. Those
witnesses placing Peltier, Robideau and Butler near the crime scene
after the killing were coerced and intimidated by the FBI. There is no
forensic evidence as to the exact type of rifle used to commit the
murders. Several different weapons present in the area during the
shoot out could have caused the fatal injuries. There was more than
one AR-15 in the area at the time of the shoot out. The AR-15 rifle
claimed to be Mr. Peltier's was found to be incompatible with the
bullet casing near the agents' car. Although other bullets were fired
at the crime scene, no other casings or evidence about them were
offered by the Prosecutor's office. In short there is no reasonable
evidence that Mr. Peltier committed the murders. Instead there is very
strong evidence of FBI misconduct.
(15) Some 6,000 FBI documents are still being withheld in their
entirety from Mr. Leonard Peltier, as are some 5,000 partial
documents. There is clearly no current reason to fear national
security risks, or the disruption of ongoing investigations. Moreover,
based on the critical nature of those documents which have been
disclosed, such as the ballistic tests reports, it is reasonable to
conclude that the remaining files would contain evidence that would
help to establish Mr. Peltier's innocence. This situation violates his
rights to access to the courts and to a fair trial.
FOIA UPDATE: WITHHELD DOCUMENTS
Recently, Mr. Peltier's attorneys filed a new round of Freedom of
Information Act requests with FBI Headquarters and various FBI field
offices in an attempt to secure the release of additional documents
concerning Mr. Peltier. Although the FBI has engaged in a number of
dilatory tactics in order to avoid the processing of these requests,
30,000 additional FOIA documents were released in June 2002.
Previously, according to the FBI, more than 6,000 full documents
remained undisclosed. The 30,000 documents released in 2002 reveal the
FBI's prior estimate to be a significant undercount of actual
documents still withheld. Currently, FOIA requests submitted to 30 FBI
field offices around the country are pending. Similar FOIA requests
have been submitted to the CIA. Nonresponsive agency letters following
the recent requests have resulted in FOIA Complaints filed by
Peltier's attorneys against the FBI, CIA and the Executive Office of
United States Attorneys.
(16) At the Peltier trial the
Prosecutor claimed in summation that...."we proved that he went down
to the bodies and executed those two young men at point blank
range...". At the appellate hearing, the government attorney conceded
"We had a murder, we had numerous shooters, we do not know who
specifically fired what killing shots...we do not know, quote unquote,
who shot the agents."
(17) At the murder trial the Prosecutor, referring to the murder
weapon, stated that "There is only one AR-15 in the group. There is no
testimony concerning any other AR-15 at Tent City or at the crime
scene or anywhere else in the area ...." Mr. Peltier's lawyers later
filed a habeas corpus petition, claiming that the government had
mislead the jury by concealing evidence of other AR-15 rifles, and
thus other potential murder weapons, at the crime scene. The same
prosecuting attorney, before the Eighth Circuit Court in 1992, claimed
that " ...I think its simply a misstatement of the trial that there
was no evidence presented and it was suppressed as to other AR-15s at
the scene ...."
(18) Mr. Peltier has now served more than 27 years in prison. During
this time he has suffered a stroke which left him partially blind in
one eye. For many years he had a seriously debilitating jaw condition
which left him unable to chew properly and caused consistent pain and
headaches. The prison medical facilities could not properly treat this
condition, and two prison surgeries have only worsened matters. A Mayo
Clinic physician offered to repair the jaw for free, but was turned
down again and again until the United Nations Raporteur sharply
rebuked the United States for subjecting Mr. Peltier to inhuman
conditions. Today, Mr. Peltier contninues to suffer from diabetes,
high blood pressure and a heart condition. According to an affiliate
of Physicians for Human Rights, he risks blindness, kidney failure and
stroke in the future, given his inadequate diet, living conditions,
and health care.
(19) Mr. Peltier has served time for a significantly longer period of
time than normally would be served before a grant of parole in similar
cases. Yet the United States Parole Commission has made it clear that
parole will not even be considered until the year 2008, some six years
after the date Congress has set for abolition of the Parole Board. No
adequate reason has been given for such arbitrary and discriminatory
treatment. Instead, the Parole Commission stated the denial was based
upon Mr. Peltier's participation in the "premeditated and cold blooded
execution of these two officers." Yet, as noted, there is no evidence
that Mr. Peltier ever fired the fatal shots. This has been admitted by
the government attorneys themselves. Yet various FBI agents, together
with Prosecutor Crooks, were present to personally oppose Mr.
Peltier's parole. At a later hearing it was made clear that Mr.
Peltier will not receive parole until he "recognizes his crime", or in
short, confesses to a crime he did not commit. [Outcome: June 12, 2000
(20) The only evidence against Mr. Peltier is the fact that he was
present at the Jumping Bull ranch during the fatal shoot out. There
were more than thirty others there that day as well. Yet Mr. Peltier
is the only one who was ever sentenced and imprisoned. The FBI and
other officials clearly singled out Leonard Peltier as a scapegoat,
and forced him to pay the collective price for the killings which
occurred, despite the lack of evidence against him. Personalized
vengeance of this kind in U.S. officials cannot be tolerated.
(21) Twelve years ago, Federal Judge Heaney of the Court of Appeals of
the Eighth Circuit, had written to U.S. Senator Inouye, supporting
clemency/commutation of sentence for Leonard Peltier. "At some point a
healing process begins. We as a nation must treat Native Americans
(22) Disturbingly, the FBI has also been implicated in similar
instances of grave misconduct in parallel cases. By way of example,
Mr. Geronimo Pratt has only recently been released from prison after
serving some 27 years for a crime he did not commit. It has been
established that key evidence against him was falsified by the FBI.
Mr. Pratt was a leader in the Black Panther party. It is now a matter
of public record that the FBI COINTELPRO program considered such
minority organizations to constitute a threat to domestic security,
and routinely engaged in improper, unethical, and sometimes unlawful
actions against them. We need only remember the harassment of Dr.
Martin Luther King for an example.
(23) Numerous internationally recognized human rights organizations,
including Amnesty International, and civil rights leaders have called
for the immediate and unconditional release of Leonard Peltier. Some
of these statements are attached to this summary for your convenience.
(24) We would also note that Mr. Peltier has made remarkable
contributions to humanitarian and charitable causes during his many
years behind bars. He sponsors an annual Christmas drive for clothes
and toys for the children of Pine Ridge, helped to establish a Native
American Scholarship fund, assisted programs for battered women and
substance abuse recovery, collaborated to improve medical care on the
reservations, worked to assist other prisoners in developing a prison
art program, and adopted children in Guatemala and El Salvador through
ChildReach, amongst many other praiseworthy contributions. As a
result, he has received recognition and acclaim from many human rights
groups, including an award from the Human Rights Commission of Spain.
(25)Based on all of the above, we seek your immediate intervention in
this case. Our concepts of justice and good government require that
such tragic errors of the past be set straight. We ask that you act to
secure Mr. Leonard Peltier's prompt release from prison, by urging the
United States Parole Commission to grant him parole, for which he is
nine years overdue. We also ask that you press for an act to
declassify the 6000 FBI documents still being withheld by the FBI, and
for a Congressional investigation into Mr. Peltier's case and the Pine
Ridge "Reign of Terror" (1973-1976).
(26) Past errors by U.S. officials are difficult to redress and much
suffering has occurred. Leonard Peltier is no longer young, and his
youth cannot be returned to him. Yet he still wishes to serve his
people and contribute to his society. We ask that he be allowed to do
so with freedom and dignity.
Thank you for your time and attention to this most urgent matter.