Christopher A. Wray
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, D.C.
June 7, 2024

Director Wray's Letter in Opposition to Leonard Peltier’s Application for Parole

Addressed to Patricia K. Cushwa, acting chair of the U.S. Parole Commission

Dear Chair Cushwa:

I write on behalf of the entire FBI family to express our adamant opposition to Leonard Peltier’s latest application for parole. Peltier is a remorseless killer who brutally murdered two of our own before embarking on a violent flight from justice. His crimes also include a post-conviction escape from federal custody, during which he and his crew fired shots at prison employees. Throughout the years, Peltier has never accepted responsibility or shown remorse. He is wholly unfit for parole. To release Peltier now would significantly “depreciate the seriousness of his offense” and “promote disrespect for the law.”1

I. Given the horrific “nature and circumstances” of Peltier’s crimes, his release would represent an affront to the rule of law.2

The facts of Peltier’s crimes are well-established and beyond dispute. On June 26, 1975, Special Agents Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams were searching for a fugitive when Peltier and others mowed them down in a barrage of gunfire.3 Peltier’s group fired more than a hundred rounds, compared to the five the two outnumbered agents were able to fire in return.4 After the onslaught, Peltier approached the wounded young men and brutally executed them at close range.5

Peltier shot Special Agent Coler twice in the head as he lay on the ground unconscious.6 Special Agent Williams was on his knees, unable to stand, when Peltier shot him in the face through an outstretched hand.7 The fatal shots were fired from a high-velocity, small-caliber firearm. Eyewitnesses placed the murder weapon in Peltier’s hands,8 and a .223-caliber cartridge retrieved from the trunk of one of the agent’s cars was later linked ballistically to Peltier’s AR-15.9

In the aftermath of the murders, Peltier engaged in a violent flight from justice. When Oregon State Police stopped Peltier and several associates near the Canadian border, Peltier’s group abandoned their vehicles and fled, turning to fire shots at police as they eluded arrest.10 The abandoned vehicles contained an arsenal of weapons, including firearms, dynamite, grenades, and other explosives.11 In a bag bearing Peltier’s thumbprint, officers found Special Agent Coler’s FBI service revolver—a trophy Peltier claimed from the murders and another critical piece of evidence proving Peltier’s guilt.12 

As he continued his flight, Peltier burglarized a home, making off with a rifle and a truck. Peltier was finally arrested in February 1976 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. After his apprehension, Peltier said that if he had known law enforcement officers were approaching, he would have “blow[n] them out of their shoes.”13 At the time of his arrest, Peltier was armed with four firearms, including the stolen rifle.14

Even after his trial and conviction for the first-degree murder of Special Agents Coler and Williams, Peltier continued his contemptible pattern of crime and violence. In 1979, Peltier participated in a prison break, during which he and his fellow escapees fired shots at officers as they fled from federal custody. When Peltier was later apprehended, he had a semi-automatic rifle that matched cartridges recovered from the scene of the escape.15 Peltier was subsequently convicted of escape and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and sentenced to an additional seven years in prison.16

II. Despite the clear evidence of guilt, affirmed time and again by scores of federal judges, Peltier has shown no remorse and continues to peddle meritless claims that courts have carefully considered and rejected.

Over the past 45 years, no fewer than 22 federal judges have evaluated the evidence and considered Peltier’s legal arguments. Each has reached the same conclusion:  Peltier’s claims are meritless, and his convictions and sentence must stand.17 Despite the overwhelming and consistent court rulings, Peltier has refused to accept any responsibility for his violent crimes and persists in advancing spurious claims that judges have repeatedly examined and exposed as false.

For instance, Peltier has continually misrepresented the significance of the ballistics evidence proving he is the shooter, despite definitive court findings—affirmed time and again on appeal—demonstrating his characterization is false. At trial, in addition to presenting eyewitness testimony placing the murder weapon in Peltier’s hands,18 the government proved that a .223 casing found in the trunk of Special Agent Coler’s car was extracted from the AR-15 linked to Peltier.19 For decades, Peltier has attempted to undermine the ballistics evidence, citing an interim “teletype” written by the firearms examiner prior to his final report that Peltier obtained after trial. Undeterred by the evidence and decisive court rulings demonstrating the falsity of his claim, Peltier nevertheless continues to push the disproven narrative that the teletype undermines the government’s case.

In 1985, the district court conducted a “lengthy” evidentiary hearing to consider the significance of the teletype and Peltier’s challenge to the ballistics evidence.20 At the conclusion of the hearing, the court found the teletype referred to the results from tests of a different series of bullet casings that did not include the .223 casing retrieved from Special Agent Coler’s trunk.21 Other contemporaneous documents confirmed the casings tested at the time the examiner drafted the teletype were recovered elsewhere, solidifying the court’s conclusion the teletype did not impact the evidence proving Peltier was the shooter.22

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the court’s findings and Peltier’s conviction. The court observed that while the teletype may have provided Peltier additional information to cross-examine certain government witnesses, it did not impact the critical ballistics evidence: “The casing introduced into evidence had in fact been extracted from the Wichita AR-15. This point was not disputed. . . .”23 For decades, courts have left the findings related to the teletype undisturbed and recognized the significance of the ballistics evidence proving “only the AR-15 linked to Mr. Peltier could have fired the fatal shots into the two agents [and] the .223 casing found in Agent Coler’s trunk matched the AR-15 … linked to Mr. Peltier.”24 The last time Peltier’s case was considered for parole the Commission reached the same conclusion when it “reasserted its belief that Peltier was in fact the shooter.”25

Likewise, courts long ago debunked Peltier’s unfounded assertion the government admitted it could not prove Peltier was the shooter, concluding it was “impossible” to draw such a conclusion.26 For years, Peltier has contended that during a 1985 oral argument before the Eighth Circuit, the government abandoned its theory Peltier shot Special Agents Coler and Williams. A review of Peltier’s failed attempts to overturn his conviction demonstrates his well-worn claim about a government concession is meritless.

Critically, the judges before whom the prosecutor allegedly made this concession did not think the government had altered or abandoned its theory that Peltier was the one who murdered the young agents in cold blood. To the contrary, in its opinion affirming Peltier’s conviction, the court confirmed it did not consider the government to have reversed course: “[The government’s] theory, accepted by the jury and the judge, was that Peltier killed the two FBI agents at pointblank range with the Wichita AR-15.”27

Years later, when Peltier continued to allege the government had conceded its inability to prove Peltier was the shooter, a second panel of the Eighth Circuit examined the entire record, including the transcript of the prior oral argument.28 After careful review, the court found it “impossible” to conclude the government intended to abandon its theory that Peltier was the shooter, explaining that the statements Peltier isolated were “taken out of context” and observing it was “[m]ore likely, [the AUSA] was merely reiterating that the government did not present any direct evidence that Peltier shot the agents at pointblank range, since all of the government’s proof was circumstantial.”29 

In the years since the Eighth Circuit squarely rejected Peltier’s claim, courts have continued to recognize the government made no concession.30 In 2003, for instance, when Peltier attempted yet again to revive his contention that the government admitted it could not prove its case, the Tenth Circuit echoed the Eighth Circuit, observing, “[T]he government had never conceded it could not prove Mr. Peltier murdered Agents Coler and Williams.”31 The court then proceeded to summarize the “ample facts” showing “[Peltier] w[as] in fact, the individual who executed the two wounded F.B.I. agents by firing upon them at point-blank range with an AR-15 rifle.”32

Despite the conclusive rulings affirming Peltier’s guilt and rejecting his baseless claims, Peltier has never taken responsibility for his crimes and the devastation he wrought—far from it. In the decades since he killed Jack and Ron, Peltier has continued to promote false narratives and enlisted support from those who promote him—no matter how unworthy he is—as a standard-bearer for legitimate grievances about the historical mistreatment of native Americans. But the facts cannot—and should not—be ignored. Peltier is a ruthless murderer who has shown an utter lack of remorse for his many crimes. His release would strike a serious blow to the rule of law.

III. The resolve of Jack’s and Ron’s friends, families, and colleagues has never slackened.    

Despite the passage of time, the pain Peltier caused his victims’ families remains and, in many ways, has grown deeper. Over the years, whenever Peltier’s case has come back to the fore, Special Agent Coler’s and Williams’ families—from Special Agent Williams’ 98-year-old uncle and a loving cousin to Special Agent Coler’s still-grieving widow and sons—have stepped forward to “do everything possible to keep this cold[-]blooded murderer behind bars where he belongs.”33 They continue to share the pain Peltier caused them and their families and express how devastating it would be if he were granted parole now, so many years later.

When Peltier murdered Special Agents Coler and Williams in 1975, a young wife was left “alone” and “devastated,”34 two small children were “robbed of a father,” and a grieving mother “was never the same.”35 Now, decades later, the children are grown, having gone through life longing for their father’s “presence and connection.”36 The families’ hearts remain broken; they “will never, as long as [they] live, forget [their family member] and friend.”37 And there are now new generations of grandchildren and extended family who “will never have the opportunity to know and love” their relatives, who were taken too soon.38  

Each time Peltier attempts to resurrect his claims for leniency, it inevitably resurrects the swirl of misinformation, causing the fallen agents’ loved ones to experience their pain anew.39 After all these years, they understandably have difficulty understanding why there is still no closure.40  Special Agent Coler’s admiring younger sisters put it well:

Leonard Peltier didn’t know the two men he murdered, but because of him, [those] of us who loved them have never really had a chance for closure.  We are subjected to hearing and thinking about him, reliving that time more often than we should. Parole hearings, Pardon and Clemency requests, books, movies, etc.  Nothing has changed regarding this case in the last 47 years.41

Over the years, the resolve of the FBI family has also not slackened.  Prior FBI directors have weighed in forcefully against Peltier’s repeated petitions.42 The FBI Agents Association, which represents 14,000 current and former FBI employees, and the Society of Former Agents of the FBI, which represents thousands more, remain staunchly opposed to Peltier’s pleas, including this latest application for parole.43 Although they may lack the platform that some of Peltier’s celebrity supporters have had over the years, I can assure you that the FBI family’s passion and dedication to this issue remains as strong as ever.


Given the overwhelming and unassailable evidence of his guilt, the brutality of his crimes, and his persistent refusal to accept responsibility, I urge you in the strongest terms possible to deny Peltier’s application for parole. To afford him release after what he did and how he has conducted himself since would most certainly “depreciate the seriousness of his offense [and] promote disrespect for the law.”44 Peltier is right where he belongs, serving consecutive life sentences for his cold-blooded murder of Jack and Ron.

Sincerely yours,

Christopher A. Wray

 See 18 U.S.C. § 4206(a).

2 Id. § 4206(a)(1)–(2).

3 Peltier v. Booker, 348 F.3d 888, 896 (10th Cir. 2003) (Peltier VI) (“[T]he officers were on a routine law enforcement mission when they encountered overwhelming firepower from Native American activists.”).

4 United States v. Peltier, 585 F.2d 314, 318 (8th Cir. 1978) (Peltier I).

5 Peltier VI, 348 F.3d at 896 (concluding that “description of the murders . . . as ‘executions’ and ‘cold-blooded’ was warranted” and “quite apt”).

6 Peltier I, 585 F.2d at 319 (“The murderer shot Coler, who was unconscious, across the top of the head. The bullet carried away a part of his forehead at the hairline. The shot was not fatal, however. The murderer then lowered his rifle a few inches and shot Coler through the jaw. The shell exploded inside his head, killing him instantly.”).

7 Id. at 318–19 (“The murderer placed the barrel of his gun against Williams’ hand and fired. The bullet ripped through Williams’ hand, into his face, and carried away the back of his head. He was killed instantly.”).

8 United States v. Peltier, 800 F.2d 772, 779 (8th Cir. 1986) (Peltier III) (“Norman Brown testified that he saw Peltier firing a weapon from the treeline similar to the one introduced into evidence. . . . Michael Anderson testified that he saw Peltier at the agents’ cars and that Peltier was carrying a weapon similar to the one introduced in evidence. Moreover, no witness testified that anyone other than Peltier was seen firing an AR–15 at the agents’ cars, or that anyone other than Peltier was seen by the agents’ cars with an AR–15.”).

9 Peltier I, 585 F.2d at 319–20.

10 Id. at 320 (“Peltier was stopped by police months later in the State of Oregon. He fled the scene, turning to fire on one of the police officers.”).

11 Peltier and his associates had “fourteen firearms, eight of which had obliterated serial numbers,” “tool boxes containing wiring, pocket watches with wires leading out of them, tools, pliers, and empty shell casings,” and “nine hand grenades.” Id. at 322.  

12 Id. at 320.

13 Id. at 334.

14 Id. at 327 (“[A]t the time of his arrest, Peltier had in his possession the .30/30 rifle stolen in Oregon, other property stolen from the Oregon ranch house, two pistols, and an M-1 semiautomatic rifle.”).

15 Peltier VI, 348 F.3d at 889–90.

16 United States v. Peltier, 693 F.2d 96, 98 (9th Cir. 1982) (Peltier II) (“No imaginable set of circumstances could be drawn . . . to justify the armed jail break that took place.”).

17 Peltier I, 585 F.2d at 335 (affirming Peltier’s first-degree murder convictions); Peltier II, 693 F.2d at 98 (affirming Peltier’s escape and unlawful firearm possession convictions); Peltier III, 800 F.2d at 775 (denying Peltier’s first collateral attack); Peltier v. Henman, 997 F.2d 461, 468–69 (8th Cir. 1993) (Peltier IV) (denying Peltier’s second collateral attack); United States v. Peltier, 312 F.3d 938, 943 (8th Cir. 2002) (Peltier V) (affirming denial of Peltier’s motion to reduce his consecutive life sentences);  Peltier VI, 348 F.3d at 892 (rejecting Peltier’s collateral attack challenging the denial of his parole application); United States v. Peltier, 446 F.3d 911, 914 (8th Cir. 2006) (Peltier VII) (affirming denial of Peltier’s motion to correct sentence). 

18 Peltier III, 800 F.2d at 779 (“Norman Brown testified that he saw Peltier firing a weapon from the treeline similar to the one introduced into evidence. . . . Michael Anderson testified that he saw Peltier at the agents’ cars and that Peltier was carrying a weapon similar to the one introduced in evidence. Moreover, no witness testified that anyone other than Peltier was seen firing an AR-15 at the agents’ cars, or that anyone other than Peltier was seen by the agents’ cars with an AR-15.”).

19 Peltier VI, 348 F.3d at 894 (citing Peltier I, 585 F.2d at 319–20; Peltier III, 800 F.2d at 779).

20 Peltier IV,997 F.2d at 464.

21 United States v. Peltier, 609 F. Supp. 1143, 1148–54 (D. N.D. 1985).

22 Id. at 1150–54.

23 Peltier III, 800 F.2d at 777 (emphasis added).

24 Peltier VI, 348 F.3d at 894 (emphasis added); see also Peltier IV, 997 F.2d at 464 (“The court found that the teletype did not refer to the .223 casing found in the agent’s car, but to other casings found at the scene.”).

25 Peltier VI, 348 F.3d at 892 (emphasis added).

26 Peltier IV, 997 F.2d at 469 (emphasis added).

27 Peltier III, 800 F.2d at 775 (emphasis added). Further reinforcing that there was no concession, the court observed that it could have more easily resolved the appeal if the government had exclusively presented the case on an aiding-and-abetting theory. Id.

28 Peltier IV, 997 F.2d at 465–71.

29 Id. at 469 (emphasis added).

30 Peltier V, 312 F.3d at 940 (observing that the government’s theory included “that Mr. Peltier personally killed the agents at point blank range”). Peltier’s citation to a letter from the former United States Attorney and isolated remarks by a prosecutor in a pro-Peltier film are also misplaced, as the United States Attorney was gone from office at the time of the alleged change in position, and the film predated and lacked the context of the Eighth Circuit’s 1993 deep dive into the alleged admission. See Peltier IV, 997 F.2d at 465–71 (examining and rejecting Peltier’s argument that the government had conceded it could not prove Peltier was the shooter). 

31 Peltier VI, 348 F.3d at 891 (emphasis added).

32 Id. at 893–95 (quoting the Parole Commission) (emphasis added).

33 Ltr. from Dan Williams (Special Agent Williams’ cousin) to Director Christopher A. Wray (Feb. 25, 2022) (Attachment A)

34 Ltr. from Paul Coler (Special Agent Jack Coler’s son) to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray (Feb. 25, 2022) (Attachment B)

35 Ltr. from Michael Titone (Special Agent Williams’ 98-year-old uncle) to Director Christopher A. Wray (Feb. 24, 2022) (Attachment C).

36 Ltr. from Ronald Coler (Special Agent Coler’s son) to Director Christopher A. Wray (Mar. 3, 2022) (Attachment D)

37 Williams Ltr.

38 Paul Coler Letter.

39 Ltr. from Peggy Coler (Special Agent Coler’s widow) to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray (Attachment E) (describing her experience as a “never-ending nightmare”).

40 “It is all very strange to me.  Strange, that after executing two defenseless men, that it could ever be considered that Peltier would get our of prison.”  Peggy Coler Letter. 

41 Ltr. from Linda Miller and Susan Gregg (Special Agent Coler’s sisters) to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray (Mar. 1, 2022) (Attachment F).

42 Ltr. from FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, to Attorney General Janet Reno (Dec. 5, 2000) (“The entire episode by Peltier remains an affront to the very principles to which you and I have dedicated our lives and to which every employee in the FBI stands firm.”); Ltr. from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III, to Isaac Fulwood, Jr., Chairman, United States Parole Commission (July 20, 2009) (“The passage of time does not diminish the brutality of these crimes or the incalculable damage done by Mr. Peltier to the surviving families, friends, and colleagues of Agents Coler and Williams.”); Ltr. from Ernest Babcock, FBI Deputy General Counsel to Cynthia K. Dunne, Attorney for Peltier (June 22, 2016) (declining Dunne’s request to meet with Director Comey and explaining “[Peltier’s] crimes resulted in pain and loss that will forever be felt by the families of the victims and by the FBI family.”) (Attachment G).

43 Ltr. from Michael J. Clark, President, Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI to Acting Chairman Patricia K. Cushwa, Parole Commission (May 13, 2024) (“Peltier deserves no compassion in return for the executions he intentionally chose to commit.”); Ltr. from Natalie Bara, President, FBI Agents Association to Patricia K. Cushwa, Acting Chairperson, Parole Commission (June 5, 2024) (“Special Agents Coler and Williams made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and that sacrifice should be honored. The loss of Agents Coler and Williams is felt as sharply today by the FBI family as it was in 1975, which is why the FBIAA and Special Agents have argued against early release for Peltier at every opportunity since his conviction.”) (Attachment H). 

44 18 U.S.C. § 4206(a).