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A Rhetorical Defense of Leonard Peltier


Leonard Peltier has been a prisoner for 28 years. This is due to crime that he did not commit. He was falsely accused to have murdered two FBI agents. Leonard Peltier is innocent and in fact the American government has confessed that they have no evidence against him. His innocence is clearly recorded on Freedom of Information Act. However there is official reason stated for jailing him; “we recognize that there is evidence in this record of improper conduct by some FBI agents, but we are reluctant to impute even further improprieties to them” (Peltier, 1999).

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Leonard Peltier is not Guilty

During a firefight at Oglala on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, two FBI agents and an Indian were killed. Leonard Peltier was among the four Native Americans who were framed to have murdered them. Leonard Peltier was among the three members of American Indian Movement (AIM).Through this movement, the three and their supporters were opposing the sale of Reservation land and mining rights to non Indian interest. (Ward and Vander, 1988) On the same date of the incident, Dick Wilson the chairman of the movement was secretly selling 1/8 of the reserved land. He was selling it to white corporate interest. He had put in place 100 armed police (GOONS).FBI records shows that the firefight resulted from a planned paramilitary assault on the reservation. It involved more than 100 FBI and other government forces and the GOONS. (Peltier, 1999)

Leonard Peltier was extradited from Canada where he had fled to claim political asylum to United States by means of false affidavits. The FBI agreed to have fabricated the process. James Eagle’s charges; one the four arrested and a non member of AIM were dropped. All prosecution weight of federal Government lay on Leonard Peltier. In addition, all FBI agents gave different testimonies during the trial of Leonard Peltier in Fargo from the one given at Cedar Rapids. This was to support the new scenario. The real evidence during the trial was a burnt-out rifle, an AR-15 used by the FBI but they argued that this particular one was the only on the Reservation that day. It was said that it belonged to Leonard Peltier. It was found 3 months later after the shootings in Oglala. At this time Leonard Peltier was in Canada. This weapon was regularly referred to as “murder weapon” during the trial. The testimony of Evan Hodge, head of FBI’s ballistics laboratory backed the claim that AR-15 was the murder weapon. This was proved wrong when documents recovered from FBI in 1980-81 stated otherwise. They revealed that firing test proved negative. That is, the rifle contained a different firing pin and that it did not match the marks on the expelled cartridge case. This indicated that the AR-15 was not the murder weapon. (Peter, 1983)

The trial lasted for 15 days. During this prosecution period, Judge Benson overruled most of the objection by the defense. He further gave the defense two and half days to present the case to jury. In 1982-1984 Leonard Peltier’s lawyer presented the case to the Court of appeal. He was armed with information uncovered FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) documents. Evan Hodge during this trial contradicted his initial report on AR15/223- cartridge connection. He admitted having “misspoken”. At this point it was evident that they could not prove who shot the FBI agents. In 1987 Leonard Peltier was denied appeal without any explanations. Former president Clinton also refused to grant him clemency. If Leonard Peltier was guilty of the two murders he should have been due for parole ten years ago which he is still denied to date (Peter, 1983).


Although evidence proves that Leonard Peltier is innocent, he continues to suffer in jail. The American government is aware of this yet takes no step to address the situation. There is clear violation of law. All Leonard Peltier is asking together with tens of millions of people is justice.


Peltier, L. (1999). Prison Writings: My Life is my Sun Dance. New York: Routledge Publishers.

Peter, M. (1983). In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. New York: Penguin.

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Ward, C. and Vander, J. (1988). Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. Massachusetts: South End Press.

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