Why I Represent Leonard Peltier’s Case for Clemency

By Cynthia K. Dunne, Attorney for Leonard Peltier

I am a member of the legal team that represents Leonard Peltier in his 2016 Clemency Petition.

Until 2013, I worked as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York, where I served a total of 28 years in both the Civil and Criminal Divisions.

Long before I imagined I’d ever represent Leonard Peltier, I reached the opinion that his case in combination with many factors, including the FBI’s role in escalating the violence on Pine Ridge and the length of time that the case has remained unaddressed, have produced one of the greatest injustices in the history of the American justice system.

At age 31 Mr. Peltier was the oldest member of the AIM present at the shootout. From my review of old government records it appears that agents considered Leonard Peltier a symbolic trophy or fall guy, whose participation might absolve the FBI of any responsibility for the incident or the dangerous conditions on Pine Ridge.

Breaking 40 years of silence, former United States Attorney James Reynolds, who supervised the Peltier case during a critical post-trial period, recently came forward to urge President Obama to grant Clemency “as being in the best interests of Justice in considering the totality of all matters involved.” Mr. Reynolds supervised the case when Mr. Peltier’s attorneys discovered that exculpatory ballistics records had been withheld by government officials in order to gain an unfair advantage at the trial. Although for decades prosecutors said that the critical ballistics results must have been “misplaced,” among the records annexed to the Clemency Petition is a Teletype from an FBI agent to his superiors reporting that a prosecutor directed the FBI to withhold the reports.

Having already served almost 41 years, Mr. Peltier has been jailed more than 4 times the ten years served by former FBI Special Agent Mark Putnam, who had an affair with an informant, killed her when he learned she was pregnant and then obstructed the investigation into her disappearance. He has served more time than former FBI Special Agent John Connolly will serve on his 40 year sentence for the deliberate facilitation of countless murders, as Whitey Bulger’s inside man in the Boston FBI. Finally, he has served more time in prison than Nelson Mandela, who before his death, was one of Mr. Peltier’s strongest supporters and for decades called for his release.

By reckoning with the past and moving forward in the best interests of Justice, reconciliation and compassion, we can become a stronger and more just nation.

It is time to free Leonard Peltier.

PDF version of this letter can be found here.

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