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Leonard Peltier Trial: 1977

Arrest, Escape, Extradition, "it Was The Agents …", Myrtle Poor Bear Irrelevant, Appeals Denied

Defendant: Leonard Peltier
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Bruce Ellison, Lew Gurwitz, William Kuntsler, Elliott Taikeff
Chief Prosecutors: Lynn Crooks, Evan Hultman, Robert Sikma
Judge: Paul Benson
Place: Fargo, North Dakota
Date of Trial: March 16—
April 18, 1977
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Life imprisonment (two consecutive terms)

SIGNIFICANCE: Countless observers find in this trial a larger issue: the question of the continuing struggle between the native American Indian and the U.S. government, epitomized by this local skirmish between members of AIM (the American Indian Movement) and the FBI. In the waning days of President William Clinton's administration, supporters of Leonard Peltier urged the president to respond favorably to a petition for clemency, and current and retired FBI agents opposed it just as vociferously, but Clinton did not include Peltier among his many last-day-in-office pardons.

On June 25, 1975, Special Agents Ronald Williams and Jack R. Coler of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) searched the Pine Ridge, South Dakota, area for a 19-year-old Indian who was wanted on charges of theft and assault with a deadly weapon. Two Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officers accompanied the FBI men.

Unsuccessful, they resumed the search the next day. Before noon, Williams radioed for help, saying he was near Oglala, a community 10 miles from Wounded Knee, and was being fired upon. FBI agents and BIA officers raced to Oglala. The gunfight that followed lasted all day. Coler and Williams were killed at point-blank range beside Williams' car. An Indian was also killed.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980