- Thomas J. Harrington
- Executive Assistant Director - Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Statement Before the United States Parole Commission Re: United States v. Leonard Peltier (Register # 89637-132)
- Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
- July 28, 2009
I appear today to oppose the parole request of Leonard Peltier, who is serving two consecutive life sentences for the murders of FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams. We in the Federal Bureau of Investigation vehemently oppose granting Mr. Peltier parole.
The intentional and vicious attack by Mr. Peltier was not simply a blatant attack on two FBI special agents; it was an attack on law enforcement as a whole—an attack on the rule of law. The inevitable haziness brought on by the passage of time does not diminish the brutality of the crimes or the lifelong torment to the surviving families. Those surviving families extend beyond the Coler and Williams’ to the entire FBI family. Moderation or lenience in terms of Mr. Peltier’s sentence can only signal disregard and disrespect to the law enforcement community as a whole, and to the families of Special Agents Coler and Williams.
I was in college when Special Agents Coler and Williams were shot and killed. My dad, who was also an FBI special agent, was assigned to the Director’s Office and served as a supervisor within the FBI’s press office at the time. In that capacity, he handled media inquiries and interview requests for not only information regarding the murders, but the resulting investigation, trial, and conviction of Mr. Peltier. I remember witnessing the toll this horrific act took on my father and his colleagues, and the sorrow they felt. I also remember the pride they felt for Ron Williams and Jack Coler for their courage to stand up against evil, their service and commitment as American patriots, their commitment to the highest ideals of the FBI, and their sacrifice as law enforcement martyrs. I thought to myself, “What kind of person would do such a thing?”
We now know what kind of person would undertake such a callous and ultimately cowardly act. And regardless of the myriad of excuses proffered by Mr. Peltier, his conviction for these cold-blooded executions stands.
The facts of this case have not changed. These same facts formed the basis for Mr. Peltier’s conviction, and have been fully set forth in multiple appellate records.
These facts are discussed in some detail in the letter submitted to this commission by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of North Dakota, and dated May 29, 2009. As such, they need not be recited in full here. But a few salient points should be made.
During the shootout with Mr. Peltier and his associates, all of whom were members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), Special Agents Coler and Williams were wounded. However, their wounds were not fatal. Mr. Peltier approached these two agents as they lay on the ground, wounded and disabled. Mr. Peltier then shot both agents at point-blank range.
Corroborating evidence confirms this chain of events. During Mr. Peltier’s trial, a witness testified that he saw Mr. Peltier standing by the agents’ cars, holding an AR-15 gun—the gun used to execute Special Agents Coler and Williams. No other individuals were witnessed holding or shooting that particular gun on that day. Several witnesses testified that the AR-15 was Mr. Peltier’s weapon.
A ballistics expert testified that ammunition components recovered from the scene of the crime matched an AR-15 that was recovered from a vehicle operated by other individuals placed at the scene of the crime.
In 1975, Oregon State Police stopped a station wagon and a motor home in which Mr. Peltier was traveling. He again evaded capture during a gun fight and fled to Canada. Upon searching the vehicles, Oregon authorities recovered from the motor home Special Agent Coler’s service revolver in a paper bag bearing Mr. Peltier’s thumbprint.
As proved during Mr. Peltier’s trial, these facts alone justify his conviction and his continued incarceration. But in addition, new evidence further confirming Mr. Peltier’s guilt has come to light since his most recent parole hearing—additional evidence that Mr. Peltier himself executed these special agents at point-blank range.
During the 2004 murder trial of Arlo Looking Cloud, an AIM member, for the murder of Anna Mae Aquash, also an AIM member, a witness testified that Mr. Peltier admitted that he shot one of the FBI agents. This witness, Darlene Nichols, is a former AIM member who had associated with Mr. Peltier and other AIM leaders on various occasions.
Ms. Nichols testified that in the fall of 1975, while she was traveling westward from South Dakota in a motor home with Mr. Peltier and several other AIM members, Mr. Peltier began to talk about Agents Coler and Williams. He stated that one of the agents “was begging for his life, but I shot him anyway.” Shortly thereafter, the motor home was stopped by the Oregon State Patrol and a gun fight broke out and Mr. Peltier escaped and fled to Canada.
Per federal statute, parole may only be granted where the release of the prisoner would not depreciate the seriousness of his offense or promote disrespect for the law, and where that release would not jeopardize the public welfare. A primary factor in any decision to grant parole rests on a sincere expression of remorse and accountability for the crime for which a prospective parolee was convicted.
To this day, Mr. Peltier refuses to recognize his role in the murders of Special Agents Coler and Williams. He has shown no remorse in the more than three decades he has been imprisoned. Rather, he has distorted the evidence, he has manipulated the media, and he has resorted to lies and half-truths in order to sway public attention from the facts at hand. Time and again, he has appealed his conviction. Time and again, he has requested parole, while continuing to maintain his innocence, or while blaming the government for the circumstances surrounding his conviction. And all to no avail. His conviction, rightly and fairly obtained, still stands, and has withstood multiple appeals to multiple courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Granting Mr. Peltier parole would only serve to minimize his responsibility and depreciate the seriousness of these crimes.
Nor can Mr. Peltier legitimately claim that he poses no threat to society or to the public welfare. This act of brutality was not an isolated incident in Mr. Peltier’s history. Mr. Peltier had been charged with attempted murder in Wisconsin in 1972. He jumped bond prior to that trial, and was a fugitive when he murdered Special Agents Coler and Williams. He again fled the scene. In 1975, when the Oregon State Patrol stopped the motor home in which he was riding, he shot at the state trooper and escaped on foot. He then broke into a nearby home and stole a rifle and a vehicle. He was later arrested in Canada in 1976, while in possession of multiple firearms. After he was convicted on the murders of Agents Coler and Williams, Mr. Peltier escaped from a federal prison in 1979, armed himself with a rifle, and shot at prison staff members.
In short, these are not the actions of a citizen who respects and abides by the law. These are not the actions of an innocent or wronged person. These are actions that show a total disregard for the safety of others, and a complete disrespect for the rule of law.
Finally, we cannot forget the lifelong impact of Mr. Peltier’s actions on those most affected. The families of Special Agents Coler and Williams have borne pain and loss that few can understand. Ellen Williams lost her only son. Peggy Coler lost her husband and the father of her two young sons—sons who would never know their father apart from the telling of his life and his death. Mr. Peltier’s continued appeals, his continued protests of innocence, and his continued excuse that he was the victim of the criminal justice system and of political gamesmanship have only served to stunt the healing process and to further victimize the families of these slain agents.
Jack Coler and Ronald Williams were in the prime of their lives, each just 28 years old. They were dedicated family men and equally dedicated public servants. The facts surrounding their deaths cannot and should not be forgotten or put aside, by the FBI family, by their families, or by the American public.
We must never forget that Mr. Peltier callously and intentionally took the lives of two young men, and took those men from their families and from the FBI. No amount of prison time served can make these families or the law enforcement community whole, particularly given Mr. Peltier’s lack of remorse and responsibility.
I know for myself and most of my colleagues, our desire to become FBI special agents and serve the American public was built on the history of the work, legends, and sacrifices of those who have gone before us. The short productive lives and ultimate sacrifice of Jack Coler and Ronald Williams have inspired thousands of FBI special agents and their families. To grant parole to their unrepentant murderer would only inflict more pain and suffering. For these reasons, I and the FBI families respectfully request that Mr. Peltier’s request for parole be denied.