American Indian Movement militant Leonard Peltier was found guilty this afternoon of the first-degree murder of two FBI agents in 1975.
The U.S. District Court jury began its deliberations Saturday, took Sunday off, and returned at 4:30 p.m. today with its verdict against Peltier, 32, originally from the Turtle Mountain Indian reservation in north central North Dakota. The trial was ending its fifth week when the jury began its deliberations.
Peltier and Robert Eugene Robideau, 29, and Darrelle Dean Butler, 34, both of Oregon, were accused of killing FBI agents Jack Coler and Renald Williams on June 26, 1975. The two agents died during a gun battle on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation near Oglala, S.D., where they had gone to arrest a man. Butler and Robideau were tried separately and acuited.
During Peltier's trail, the prosecution portrayed him as a violent man. When the two agents arrived at the reservation, the government prosecutors maintained, Peltier know he was being sought for allegedly attempting to kill an off-duty Milwaukee police officer.
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, who arrested Peltier at an Indian camp near Henton, Alberta, testified that the defendant told a camp elder he would have blown "us out of our shoes" hand he seen the Mounties arrive to arrest him.
Government prosecutors called witnesses who said they had seen Peltier carrying a rifle on the day of the shootings. Michael Erwin Anderson, 18, of Fort Defiance, Ariz., said he saw Peltier carry a rifle by the two agents' cars. But Anderson was unsure of the time sequence.
The defense contended that Peltier was not involved in the shootings, and that the FBI fabricated evidence to implicate him. Throughout much of the trial, Peltier's attorneys sought to emphasize discrepancies in FBI investigative documents and testimony from prosecution witnesses. The attorneys repeatedly claimed that the FBI had threatened prosecution witnesses in an attempt to obtain desired testimony.
Defense witnesses, who took their oaths on an Indian ceremonial pipe, told of a reservation atmosphere of fear. Guns were prevalent on the reservation, they said.
Jean Day, 26, who lived with Peltier on the reservation during the four months preceding the shootings, said AIM members and traditional Indians feared attack from "goons" who were supporters of Richard Wilson, then the tribal chairman. Officers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not provide adequate protection, she said.