By Allan Lengel
It seemed like a no brainer for the U.S. Parole Commission.
American Indian activist Leonard Peltier was convicted in the 1975 fatal shootings of FBI agents Jack Coler and Ronald A. Williams on the Oglala Sioux Indian Reservation. The agents were serving arrests warrants for robbery and assault.
And after the shootings, while on the lam, Peltier shot at an Oregon Highway Patrol Officer, authorities say. In 1979, he escaped from prison and shot at a prison employee. In all, he had 12 prison infractions, four of which were drug related.
So considering all that, this may not have come as any great shock: After his July 28 parole hearing at his federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa., the parole commission turned him down, according to an announcement Friday by U.S. Attorney Drew H. Wrigley of North Dakota, where Peltier was convicted in 1977. The next parole hearing will be in July 2024 for the Peltier, who is 65.
On Friday, FBI Assistant Director Thomas J. Harrington issued a statement lauding the parole commission’s decision and added:
“His time served in jail for their 1975 murders has not diminished the brutality of his crimes or the pain and sorrow felt by the families of his victims or the FBI family.”
Peltier denied actually shooting the agents. He has conceded that he was present and shot in the area of the agents, authorities said. The parole board said the evidence was convincing that he was the actual killer.
U.S. Atty. Wrigley issued a statement saying: “Leonard Peltier’s guilt is certain and has been upheld time and time again by every appellate court. The evidence is overwhelming . And the loss suffered by the Coler and Williams families is equally overwhelming.”
After the shooting, authorities say Peltier was captured in Canada in February 1976 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
“He was heavily armed when arrested…and said he would have blown the Mounties out of their shoes had he known they were coming to arrest him,” the U.S. Attorney’s press release said.
In 1979, he escaped. The FBI captured Peltier who possessed a semi-automatic rifle at the time, authorities said.
In other words, how hard of a decision was it to keep the guy behind bars?