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FBI agents urge President Clinton not to free American Indian activist
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- About 500 current and former FBI agents marched to the White House Friday to urge President Clinton not to grant clemency to Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of the 1975 murders of two agents.
The agents, many of whom had black bands over their badges, carried pictures of the two agents who were killed and a banner that read "Never Forget."
Special Agent John Sennett also tried to deliver a petition signed by about 9,000 law enforcement officers calling for Peltier, 56, to remain in jail for the rest of his life. The Secret Service would not accept the package for security reasons.
"We want to impress upon the president that Leonard Peltier is not at all worthy of that kind of consideration. He is the cold-blooded killer of two FBI agents in their late 20s who were, at the time of their deaths, they were on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation looking for a fugitive and they happened upon Leonard Peltier," Sennett told CNN.
Prosecutors said Ron Williams and Jack Coler were searching for robbery suspects when Peltier and his associates opened fire on them from long range. The two agents were wounded in a barrage of about 125 shots; they were killed execution-style at close range.
Peltier fled to Canada after the shootings, where he was caught and extradited to the United States. He was convicted in 1977 and sentenced to two life sentences.
Peltier has insisted that he was innocent, and his supporters say he was convicted based on falsified evidence.
"Mr. Peltier is way overdue for parole. He's been in prison for 25 years. He received human rights awards for the humanitarian and charitable work he does from behind bars. And he is in failing health. He cannot get parole unless he admits to a crime he did not commit and we feel that it's time for the United States government to take some acts towards reconciliation with Native American people," Peltier's attorney Jennifer Harbury told CNN Friday.
Last spring, the U.S. Parole Commission recommended against Peltier's parole. He does not become eligible again until 2008.
Peltier has made a formal clemency request to Clinton, who said recently that he will review the case. Clinton could pardon Peltier or commute his sentence, which would precipitate his immediate release.
The White House has refused comment on all questions about possible pardons. A White House spokesman said Clinton would review pending requests for executive clemency before he leaves office in January, including that of Peltier.
"There are strong passions on all sides of the issue," White House spokesman Elliot Diringer said Friday. "The president's decision will be based on the facts."
FBI Director Louis Freeh is known to be outraged by Clinton's consideration of clemency for Peltier, and he recently wrote to Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno expressing his belief that Peltier should remain in prison.
Freeh wrote the president that the families of slain agents Williams and Coler "respectfully plead to you that the vicious murderer of a son and a father not be heroically elevated above the cold and hardened criminal he chose to be."
Susan Lloyd of the FBI's Washington field office told CNN the event is the first of its kind in Washington -- a protest where FBI agents show their solidarity in a public fashion.
She also said that most of the marchers were active agents who had taken the day off.
"None of this is on government time," she said.
Peltier's supporters claim that he was targeted because he was active in the American Indian Movement (AIM) and supported autonomy for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
His attorney said Friday that no one ever saw Peltier shoot the agents and accused the FBI of suppressing important evidence.
"A ballistic test that was the most precise available test was performed: the firing pin test. It showed the bullet could not have come from the gun. The FBI the concealed that test and just before the trial did a much less good test, which they presented to say the bullet did come from his gun," Harbury said.
She said two of the jurors told a private investigator they would have ruled differently if they'd known about the first test.
Sennett said Peltier's case has been handled fairly.
Leonard Peltier's conviction was taken up to the U.S. Court of Appeals four times and they found nothing in the trial record. They found no reason to question the quality of the evidence to grant him a new trial or to modify the conviction in any way. In fact, the case was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court on three occasions. And the Supreme Court, reviewing the record, found no reason to grant certiorari and review the matter," he said.
The Web site of the International Office of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee urged supporters to "flood the comment line" at the White House with calls to express outrage over the FBI agents' demonstration.
Peltier supporters lobby Clinton for executive clemency
The International Office of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee
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