<+>=<+>KOLA Newslist<+>=<+>

2000    -25
Why is Leonard Peltier still in jail?!
online petition for executive clemency at


[forwarded by Paul Pureau. Thanks!]

Chicago Tribune


By Glen Elsasser
Washington Bureau
December 6, 1999

WASHINGTON -- A somber crew knelt in Lafayette Park, facing the White House in silent 
protest. Their posters charged that Leonard Peltier, a Native American leader, has 
been unjustly imprisoned since 1976.

For nearly a month, Jean Day of Ft. Stevens, Wis., and several dozen others had 
rallied in an effort to persuade President Clinton to exercise a unique presidential 
power on behalf of Peltier--to pardon him, just as he had granted clemency to members 
of the FALN, the Puerto Rican terrorist group, after they had spent some 20 years in 

A member of the Ho-Chunk Indian nation, Day spoke of Peltier as a friend and a 
"political prisoner." By her account, Peltier, 54, is ill from jaw surgery and is not 
guilty of murdering two FBI agents on a South Dakota reservation in 1975.

Few pleas for clemency provoke such a public spectacle as Peltier's, replete with 
regular demonstrations and an e-mail campaign.

But this is the holiday season, when the White House becomes not just a scene of 
thanksgiving and celebration but also of clemency. It's the time when presidents often 
choose to free inmates and absolve others of penalties incurred for breaking the law.

However, those seeking clemency this season, ranging from Peltier to Patricia Hearst 
Shaw, might be unsettled by one fact: Clinton, despite Republican critics' penchant 
for calling him soft on crime, has granted far fewer requests for clemency than any 
recent chief executive.

According to statistics compiled by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking 
Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Clinton has granted only 2.7 percent of the 
requests he has acted on. By comparison, President George Bush granted 4.2 percent; 
Ronald Reagan, 12.6 percent; Jimmy Carter, 21.6 percent; Gerald Ford, 31.2 percent; 
and Richard Nixon, 26.2 percent.

In his nearly seven years in office, Clinton has, according to official figures, 
issued 74 pardons and granted 16 commutations.

In the Peltier case, his supporters say he has been made a scapegoat for government 
corruption and incompetence and that he was convicted on trumped-up evidence. 
Organizations of FBI employees and former agents have disputed the allegations in 
newspaper ads and urged Clinton to deny clemency for Peltier.

Most cases have attracted much less attention. One exception is the offer to the FALN, 
which provoked a firestorm of criticism and congressional hearings. Even the 
president's wife, a U.S. Senate candidate in New York, which has a substantial Puerto 
Rican population, eventually distanced herself from her husband's decision.

Former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds (D-Ill.) said in a letter to the Tribune that he had 
petitioned Clinton to commute his 6 1/2-year sentence for bank fraud and vote fraud, 
so that he might be reassigned from prison to a community-based correctional facility 
and hold a job. Neither the White House nor Reynolds' lawyer would confirm the request.

Among the other pending cases is the application for clemency from Preston King, an 
African-American scholar who fled to England in 1961 after his conviction by an 
all-white jury for draft evasion in his native Georgia.

As a Fisk University student in 1952, King applied by mail and received a student 
deferment from his all-white draft board. His deferment was continued in 1956 for 
graduate studies at the London School of Economics.

However, when King appeared in person for another extension, the board rejected his 
request, which the former trial judge now concedes was discriminatory.

King recalled that the board's chairwoman had written him polite letters addressing 
him as "Mr. King" until he appeared in person. On realizing he was black, King said, 
"she suddenly started calling me 'Preston.' "

In a letter to Clinton, Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP's board of directors, asked 
him "to undo a great injustice" and grant King a pardon.

Another prominent subject of recent clemency pleas is Shaw, the newspaper heiress who 
had served 21 months of a 7-year prison term for armed robbery when Carter commuted 
her sentence in 1979. Carter has called on Clinton to pardon Shaw, who, he said, is 
not "a full-fledged citizen" and still cannot vote.

Shaw was kidnapped in 1974 when she was 19 by a radical group known as the Symbionese 
Liberation Army. During her captivity, she assumed the name Tania and was photographed 
carrying a rifle during an SLA holdup of a San Francisco bank.

The former prosecutor in the case opposes a pardon for Shaw, who lives in Connecticut 
with her husband and two children.

The pardon has been a presidential prerogative since the Founding Fathers enshrined it 
in the Constitution. The most famous modern pardon, that of Richard Nixon by President 
Ford, came by proclamation a month after Ford succeeded him in 1974. Nixon had not 
been indicted for any crime.

Under this unique power, which can be applied to all federal offenses, the president 
alone has the authority to commute prison sentences and to cancel fines, penalties and 
forfeitures of property.

"I never remember any application in which guilt was the issue," recalled Chicago's 
Abner Mikva, the former congressman and federal judge who also served as White House 
counsel to Clinton. "In most cases people had served prison time and the question was 
whether they had already paid their debt to society."

For more than a century, the Justice Department has screened clemency petitions for 
the White House. A small office of seven lawyers and five paralegals --headed by an 
official known as the pardon attorney-- investigates the background of each eligible 
applicant: the nature of the crime, disciplinary history in prison and signs of 

The pardon attorney's report on individual applicants must be signed by the deputy 
attorney general, who reviews each case before it is sent to the White House counsel's 
office with a recommendation. Most applications, about 200 a year, are denied.

The White House provided few details of how Clinton actually deals with clemency 
appeals. Usually, the president announces his decisions once a year, around Christmas.


Reply via email to