Ex-U.S. Attorney backs Leonard Peltier’s bid for clemency
James Reynolds, former U.S. Attorney, wrote a letter to President Obama and the DOJ that supports Native American activist Leonard Peltier's bid for clemency just before Christmas.(STEVEN SENNE/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Tuesday, January 3, 2017, 7:33 PM
The U.S. Attorney whose office prosecuted Native American activist Leonard Peltier 40 years ago wrote to President Obama just before Christmas to support the aging prisoner’s bid for clemency.
James Reynolds, the former U.S. Attorney in Iowa, contacted the White House and the Department of Justice in a Dec. 21 letter asking that Peltier — now 71 and in failing health — be given a compassionate release.
“I think it’s time,” Reynolds, 77, told the Daily News from his Florida home.
“Forty years is enough,” the former US attorney said.
He also admitted he’s not convinced of Peltier’s guilt — even though the activist was convicted of fatally shooting FBI agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams and has spent the last four decades behind bars.
“I don’t know. Who knows?” Reynolds said, when asked if the wrong man might have gone to prison.
“The hardest thing is to try and go back and reconstruct history. He may not have (done the crime),” Reynolds said, adding that Peltier “would not be the first” to suffer a wrongful conviction.
FBI Agents hold a banner in front of the White House during an FBI rally, Dec. 15, 2000. The rally is to show opposition to any consideration by President Clinton to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, convicted of murdering two FBI agents in 1975.(MOLLY RILEY/REUTERS)
“When you stand at the bottom and you look at the naked underbelly of our system, it has got flaws. It’s still the best one we’ve got, but at certain points there has to be a call for clemency and that’s where we are,” the former U.S. attorney said.
As for the famously controversial trial for the June 1975 shootings and subsequent appeal from Peltier — which was rejected — Reynolds admitted that “we might have shaved a few corner here and there.”
Reynolds was appointed to his position by former President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
His predecessor, Evan Hultman, handled the original prosecution of Peltier for the FBI agents deaths during a wild shoot out at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Reynolds asked Hultman to stay on and help with Peltier’s appeal, which failed to get his conviction overturned.
Peltier, who was part of the American Indian Movement in the 1970s — a group the FBI was investigating for suspected subversive activities — is considered a political prisoner by Amnesty International. His fight for freedom has garnered support from all corners of the globe and is a cause celebrated among many different social justice groups.
The former U.S. Attorney said Peltier (pictured) still deserves clemency even if he was convicted of the fatal shooting of two FBI agents.(CLIFF SCHIAPPA/Associated Press)
Peltier has spent most of his adult life behind bars, most recently in a high-security super-max federal prison in Florida.
Now a grandfather, with a heart condition and numerous health issues, Peltier still refuses to admit his guilt — even if would help his clemency case.
“I am prepared to die here. I would prefer it be back at my home, but I’m a realistic about my chances,” Peltier told The News in May, when a reporter visited him in prison.
An Indian of Anishinabe, Dakota, and Lakota heritage, Peltier grew up among the Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Fort Totten Sioux Nations of North Dakota. He said he plans to be buried there on his father’s ancestral lands.
His supporters have pushed for a presidential pardon for Peltier for decades — coming close in 2001 when outgoing president Bill Clinton was said to be strongly considering it.
But 500 FBI agents took to the street in a protest, and Clinton wound up pardoning fugitive financier Marc Rich.
Peltier was charged in the murder of two FBI agents.(Bettmann/Bettmann Archive)
Now, Peltier and his family are pinning their hopes on the outgoing Obama administration — likely his last bid for clemency.
He’s next up for parole in 2024, when he will be 79.
Reynolds said he is hoping President Obama will take matters into his own hands.
He sent a copy of his letter to Obama to the DOJ and got a note in return acknowledging its receipt, he said.
The DOJ told him they had appreciated his service and that his letter had been added to Peltier’s clemency file.
The agency also told him Peltier’s petition “was under review,” Reynolds said.
“I know I’m going against company policy, as they say,” he said of the FBI resistance to granting Peltier clemency. “But at this point, we’ve got 40 years on him, 40 pounds of flesh, maybe it’s time to let him go ... I don’t think keeping him in there will make society a better place."Send a Letter to the Editor
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