Christopher A. Wray
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, D.C.
June 10, 2024

Executive Assistant Director Timothy Langan's Statement in Opposition to Leonard Peltier’s Application for Parole

Remarks as prepared for delivery

I stand before you today on behalf of Director Christopher Wray and the entire Federal Bureau of Investigation to vehemently express our opposition to the parole request of Leonard Peltier, who is serving two consecutive life sentences for the cold-blooded murders of FBI Special Agents Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams.

On June 26, 1975, Special Agents Coler and Williams were attempting to locate and arrest a fugitive on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Through their investigation, a vehicle of interest was identified and stopped. The vehicle’s occupants, to include Leonard Peltier, immediately exited the stopped vehicle and began firing at Special Agents Coler and Williams, being fully aware of their identity as FBI agents. Peltier and his associates discharged over 125 rounds into the vehicles of Coler and Williams. (This does not include the rounds that struck the agents or missed rounds). In direct contrast, Coler and Williams only discharged five rounds before being incapacitated and ultimately executed1 by Peltier.

As described by the Court of Appeals, citing the trial record, “[T]he agents were killed with a high velocity, small caliber weapon fired at point blank range. Williams attempted to shield his face from the blast with his right hand, turning his head slightly to the right. The bullet ripped through Williams’ hand, into his face, and carried away the back of his head. The murderer shot Coler, who was unconscious, across the top of his 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.”2 As noted by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, a previous United States Parole Commission’s “description of the murders…as ‘executions’ and ‘cold-blooded’ was warranted.”3 

Physical evidence indicated that at least three .223 caliber bullets were fired from close range at the agents. Testimony established Peltier was the only person carrying an AR-15 rifle at the time of the murders, and it was the only weapon present and capable of firing a .223 round.4

At the time of the incident, Peltier was a fugitive for attempted murder of an off-duty police officer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By Peltier’s own admission, he believed the agents were looking to arrest him. Basically, they were executed for doing their job: upholding the law.

After several months on the run, Peltier and his American Indian Movement (AIM) associates were stopped near the Canadian border. Subsequent to his escape and the capture of his associates, the vehicle was searched, and an arsenal of weapons and explosives were discovered,5 including Special Agent Coler’s FBI service revolver bearing Peltier’s thumbprint.6

Even after being found guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of the agents, Peltier continued on his path of lawlessness and violence. In 1979, he participated in an orchestrated prison break from the Federal Correctional Institution in Lompoc, California.7 Peltier received an additional seven-year consecutive sentence for this violent escape attempt that resulted in the death of another inmate and the assault of a civilian bystander.

On a personal note, I can vividly recall hearing about the brutal murders of Special Agents Coler and Williams during my New Agent Training at Quantico, Virginia, in 1998. I can recount trying to grasp the details of the horrific killings of two of the FBI’s own. It was during this portion of the agent training process when I fully recognized the commitment I was embarking on, and it made me even more committed to protecting the American people.

Upholding the Constitution and protecting American citizens has been at the core of the FBI’s mission since 1908. It’s a commitment recited by every new FBI special agent at graduation. Special Agents Coler and Williams vowed that same oath and selflessly gave their lives to uphold that commitment.

At the time of their murders, Special Agent Coler was 28 years of age and Special Agent Williams was 27 years of age. The agents were assigned to help investigate and reduce crime on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which is located in the southwest corner of South Dakota.8

The FBI has represented federal law enforcement on tribal lands since the 1920s. Today, the FBI remains even more committed to and responsible for investigating the most serious crimes within Indian Country, which include homicide, rape, child sexual assault, and violence against women and children.

Throughout all our investigations across Indian Country, the FBI remains steadfast in upholding tribal sovereignty while investigating violations of federal law—and is committed to working alongside our partners to prosecute these heinous crimes to the fullest and protect innocent lives. 

On June 26, 1975, Special Agents Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams found themselves at the mercy of a killer. They made the greatest sacrifice that day—their lives—protecting others. We owe it to them and their families to uphold justice. We cannot and should not allow the facts surrounding their deaths to be forgotten by anyone.

Leonard Peltier deserves to fulfill the two consecutive life terms he was sentenced to on April 18, 1977. If granted parole, Peltier will have only served one of the two life sentences, and the parole would absolve the additional seven-year sentence for his escape from federal prison.

We cannot allow history to be erased. The facts surrounding this case have not changed. For nearly 50 years, the same concrete evidence has been outlined again and again during multiple appellate records. With each appeal and parole hearing, the wounds from this tragedy reopen for the Coler and Williams families, along with the current and former FBI workforce. Over two dozen federal judges have evaluated the evidence and considered Peltier’s legal arguments, and each has reached the same conclusion: Leonard Peltier’s convictions and sentence must stand.

I speak for myself and on behalf of the entire FBI family when I say granting parole to an unrepentant murderer would not only be justifying an attack on the rule of law, it would inflict more pain and unnecessary suffering on the families. For the reasons I have outlined here today, the FBI respectfully requests that Mr. Leonard Peltier’s request for parole be denied.  

United States v. Peltier, 585 F.2d 314, 318-319 (8th Cir. 1978), cert denied 440 U.S. 945 (1979)
3 Peltier, 348 F.3d at 894
5 ID, at 322.
6 ID, at 320.
7 Presentence Report, United States v. Peltier, No. 79-cr-607 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 22, 1980).