With Only Days Left in Office, Will Obama Release Leonard Peltier?

A former prosecutor of political prisoner Leonard Peltier is asking President Barack Obama to release Peltier from prison before he leaves office.
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A former United States attorney who served as the top prosecutor in the conviction of political prisoner Leonard Peltier is encouraging President Barack Obama to release him before leaving office next week.

James Reynolds, who helped put Peltier in prison for more than 40 years, sent a letter to Mr. Obama on December 21, encouraging the president to grant Peltier’s clemency petition, filed by his attorney’s in February 2016.

Clemency would, in Reynolds’ words, be “in the best interest of justice in considering the totality of all matters involved.”

But the question remains: Will Mr. Obama release Peltier before president-elect Donald Trump takes office on January 20?

“It is truly extraordinary for the head prosecutor in such a politicized case to take a public stance contrary to the FBI – it is unprecedented to our knowledge,” said Martin Garbus, Peltier’s lead counsel. “We will urge President Obama to weight Mr. Reynold’s letter when considering Mr. Peltier’s case, and to examine the petition with fresh eyes. We believe that Mr. Peltier’s conviction presents one of the greatest injustices in the history of the American justice system.”

Peltier, now 72, is currently serving two life sentences at the United States Penitentiary in Florida for the murder of two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams. The agents, along with Native American Joseph Stuntz, were killed in a shootout on the Pine Ridge Reservation on June 26, 1975.

Amnesty International, along with many other human and civil rights groups, has expressed concerns over Peltier’s trial and conviction.

“Mr. Reynolds’ extraordinary letter in support of clemency is further proof that the interests of justice would best be served by President Obama ordering Leonard Peltier’s release from prison,” said Emily Walsh, a campaigner for the Individuals at Risk Program with Amnesty International USA.

“Given that Leonard Peltier has spent over 40 years in prison; that he is now 72-years-old and in poor health; and that his next parole hearing is scheduled for 2024, President Obama must act now to grant Leonard Peltier clemency before he leaves office,” Walsh said.

Reynolds, now 77, was appointed as U.S. attorney for the Iowa district in 1976 by President Jimmy Carter and oversaw Peltier's trial and numerous appeals. He was later appointed to U.S. attorney for South Dakota.