Leonard Peltier parole hearing update

The Leonard Peltier Official Ad Hoc Committee posted this statement from Peltier’s attorneys on June 12.

We began this year with a triumphant motto, coined by Brother Dhoruba bin Wahad: “We will not give up the fight.” Fight we will for Leonard’s freedom. The struggle for Leonard’s freedom is not over — until it is over. We will use every available legal mechanism to secure his release, but we know the law and justice are not the same thing, and so the law alone is not sufficient to access meaningful justice. As such, we encourage continued legal support but also social and political support for Leonard.

Leonard had his parole hearing on Monday, June 10, 2024, and we feel that he was as supported as possible. We are aware that the parole process itself, like every part of the criminal penal system, is both a political and legal process, and the flaws in this process specifically concerning Leonard have been meticulously documented by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The appropriate inquiry for the commission is to assess the person who stands before them, not the alleged offense.

Leonard’s parole hearing lasted more than seven hours. There was nothing unexpected about the hearing itself. The surviving loved ones of the agents killed on June 26, 1975, gave impact statements, as did representatives from the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of North Dakota.

Dr. Joel Rene Morrissey and organizer Nick Tilsen, the only two witnesses permitted to testify, spoke compellingly regarding Leonard’s seriously deteriorating medical condition and the plans made to care for Leonard upon his release. Dr. Joel Morrissey, particularly, gave thorough testimony highlighting the ongoing long-term medical neglect to which Mr. Peltier is subjected.

Lead attorney Jenipher Jones, who was present at the parole hearing, devises the overall legal strategy and framing regarding Leonard’s post-conviction relief, civil, and human rights. For the past year, Attorney Jones has been working to ensure Leonard’s medical care is both constitutionally sufficient and in accordance with human rights provisions. Attorney Jones also develops the constitutional analysis with respect to all aspects of Mr. Peltier’s case.

Ms. Jones’ esteemed co-counsel, Attorney Moira Meltzer-Cohen, brilliantly developed and delivered the arguments to support Leonard’s release. Attorney Meltzer-Cohen also, in part, developed the legal framework for Leonard’s parole. Unfortunately, Kevin Sharp was not permitted to deliver arguments to the Hearing Examiner nor present evidence during the hearing.

Leonard’s pride and personality shine through

Leonard was asked about the underlying offenses, but he also had the opportunity to speak about his grandchildren, and his personality and pride really shone through. A massive amount of material was presented, and we hope the hearing examiner has been convinced of the obvious fact that, if released, Leonard is not in danger of violating the law and that, after 50 years, his release will not be seen as promoting disrespect for the law.

Attorneys Jones and Meltzer-Cohen expect a decision within 21 days and are responsible for spearheading any necessary appeals and subsequent litigation, though they hope such action will not be necessary.

We thank everyone who contributed to this process, including families, our mentors, shout out to Attorney Meltzer-Cohen’s students at CUNY School of Law, the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), both organizations to which Attorney Jones is a board member. We also express sincere gratitude to the members of the NLG Mass Incarceration Committee Old Law Prisoner Project, Professor Chuck Weisselberg, Attorney Brad Thompson, Professor Audrey Bomse, Dr. Joel Morrissey, Dr. Giselle Dias, Kalonji Jama Changa, Silja Talvi, the Leonard Peltier Official Ad Hoc Committee and the Jericho Movement and all those who have supported their work and advocacy.

This work is part of the long tradition of liberation work for Indigenous peoples everywhere: When we fight, we win.

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