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Senators urge Biden to commute Peltier sentence

(Photo courtesy International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee Facebook page)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, renewed efforts to urge President Joe Biden to commute the sentence of Leonard Peltier, a Native American activist convicted of murder in 1977 following a controversial investigation and trial, which many civil rights leaders and legal experts have called unjust, including the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case. The new letter follows Schatz’s call for clemency in January. In addition to Schatz, the letter is signed by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.).

In their letter to the president, the senators cite Peltier’s advanced age, illness, and the growing concerns of misconduct and injustice around his arrest and prosecution.

“Mr. Peltier has spent more than half of his life behind bars. Now, at seventy-seven years old, he suffers from numerous health conditions, including a potentially fatal abdominal aortic aneurysm,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to grant clemency to Mr. Peltier by commuting the remainder of his sentence. Mr. Peltier’s continued imprisonment defies the promises of justice, and the power to exercise mercy in this case lies solely within your discretion.”

The full text of the letter can be found below and is available here.

Dear President Biden:

We write to request that you grant clemency to Native American rights activist Leonard Peltier by commuting the remainder of his sentence. Mr. Peltier has spent more than half of his life behind bars. Now, at seventy-seven years old, he suffers from numerous health conditions, including a potentially fatal abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Over the past several decades, clemency for Mr. Peltier has received sweeping support from many faith and human rights leaders, including Pope Francis, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Saint Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Coretta Scott King. Each have articulated the moral imperative of granting Mr. Peltier clemency.

Moreover, mounting evidence of clear misconduct has warranted outcry from the very officials who put Mr. Peltier behind bars. James H. Reynolds, the U.S. Attorney who oversaw Mr. Peltier’s prosecution on appeal, stated that “the prosecution and continued incarceration of Mr. Peltier was and is unjust.”  The late Judge Gerald Heaney, who presided over Mr. Peltier’s 1986 appeal in the Eighth Circuit, also called for the commutation of Mr. Peltier’s sentence in a powerful letter that detailed the injustice of Mr. Peltier’s trial and proclaimed that “a healing process must begin.”

We commend the steps that your administration has taken to right past wrongs of our government’s treatment of Native Americans, particularly through Secretary Haaland’s leadership and her Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative.

Furthermore, your administration has demonstrated a laudable commitment to upholding the core American values of liberty and justice, and rectifying inequities in the criminal justice system. Consistent with these actions, we urge you to grant clemency to Mr. Peltier by commuting the remainder of his sentence. Mr. Peltier’s continued imprisonment defies the promises of justice, and the power to exercise mercy in this case lies solely within your discretion.

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