Parole for Leonard Peltier denied

The decision is “missed opportunity for the United States to finally recognize the misconduct of the FBI,” says lawyer

Leonard Peltier

AIM activist, Leonard Peltier has been denied parole. Eligible again July 2026. Photo: APTN

American Indian Movement (AIM) activist, Leonard Peltier has been denied parole.

Peltier appeared for a parole hearing on June 10, 2024., before the United States Parole Commission at a penitentiary in Coleman, Florida.

The parole commission issued its decision Tuesday.

His attorney, Kevin Sharp, a former federal judge, vowed to appeal. He had argued that Peltier was wrongly convicted and that the health of the 79-year-old is failing.

“This decision is a missed opportunity for the United States to finally recognize the misconduct of the FBI and send a message to Indian Country regarding the impacts of the federal government’s actions and policies of the 1970s,” he said in a statement.

According to Nicole Navas Oxman, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice, Peltier is “eligible for another parole hearing in June 2026.”

The hearing was held before a U.S. Parole Commission examiner inside Coleman 1, a high-security prison where Peltier has been since 2022.

Born in1944, Peltier was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, in a June 26, 1975 shooting on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences and has been in prison since 1977.

“The way they have treated Leonard is the way they have treated Indigenous people historically throughout this country,” said Nick Tilsen, president and CEO of the NDN Collective, an Indigenous-led advocacy group.

“That is why Indigenous people and oppressed people everywhere see a little bit of ourselves in Leonard Peltier. Although today is a sad day, we are not going to stop fighting.”

Tilsen, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, credits AIM and others for most of the rights Native Americans have today, including religious freedom and the ability to operate casinos and tribal colleges and enter into contracts with the federal government to oversee schools and other services.

Peltier first became eligible for parole in 1993.

Coleman 1 is a high-security USP or United States Penitentiary, located smack in the middle of Florida about an hour’s drive northwest of Orlando.

The FBI and its current and former agents dispute the claims of innocence.

“They were down, they were wounded, they were helpless and he shot them point blank,” said Mike Clark, president of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI. “It is a heinous crime.”

FBI Director, Christopher Wray, said in a statement that “justice continues to prevail.” And Natalie Bara, president of the FBI Agents Association, described Peltier in a statement as an “unremorseful murderer.”

“We believe this decision upholds justice for our fallen colleagues and their families,” the statement said.

Relatives of the two agents have long argued that Peltier should remain behind bars. In a 2022 letter to Wray, Coler’s son Ronald Coler said the campaign for Peltier’s release has been painful for the family.

“Not only has my family suffered the loss of my father, but we have also been forced to endure the insult that Peltier has become a favorite cause and figurehead championed by Hollywood, the music industry, politicians and well-intentioned activists who assume or believe he is being punished unfairly,” he wrote.

“Peltier allows himself to be celebrated thus. He knows his guilt.”

Parole also was rejected at a hearing in 2009, and then-President Barack Obama denied a clemency request in 2017. Another clemency request is pending before President Joe Biden.

Peltier’s lawyer vows to continue to fight for justice for Peltier.

“Our work to ensure Leonard Peltier is free will not stop – we will immediately begin an appeal to the Parole Commission’s Appeals Board
and in federal court. I have not lost hope that Leonard Peltier will one day be free,” said Sharp.

Peltier is now 79, suffers from many serious medical conditions such as diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurism, and has been in prison for 47 years.

With files from the Canadian Press.

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