- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2000

FBI agents will stage a White House vigil Friday to encourage President Clinton to deny a presidential pardon to Leonard Peltier, the American Indian Movement leader convicted in the 1975 execution-style murder of two FBI agents.

The demonstrating agents, led by John Sennett, president of the FBI Agents' Association, also will present a letter asking that Peltier's pending clemency request be rejected. The vigil will include a silent march around the White House, beginning at noon.

The letter and pending demonstration follow a memo last week by FBI Director Louis J. Freeh asking Mr. Clinton not to commute Peltier's life sentence, saying his pardon would "signal disrespect" for law enforcement and the public.

"Mr. President, there is no issue more deeply felt within the FBI or more widely shared within the law enforcement community than the belief that this attack by Peltier was nothing less than a complete affront to our cherished system of government under the rule of law," Mr. Freeh said.

The director previously has said Peltier's guilt had been "firmly established," noting that the two agents Jack R. Coler, 28, and Ronald A. Williams, 27 were fatally shot as they lay wounded on the ground.

He said the FBI "cannot forget this cold-blooded crime, nor should the American people."

The White House confirmed last month that Mr. Clinton is reviewing pending requests for executive clemency, including Peltier's, and will make a decision before he leaves office Jan. 20.

Mr. Clinton promised during a Nov. 8 radio interview he would consider a pardon for Peltier, telling Pacifica Radio he owed it to both sides of the Peltier issue to give the pardon request "an honest look-see" before he leaves office.

"I believe there is a new application for him in there and when I have time, after the election is over, I'm going to review all the remaining executive clemency applications and, you know, see what the merits dictate," Mr. Clinton told the radio network.

Mr. Clinton's right to grant pardons "for offenses against the United States" is guaranteed by the Constitution. He has pardoned 185 persons and commuted the sentences of 21 others, one of the lowest rates among modern presidents.

Peltier, eligible for parole in 2009, is serving two consecutive life terms at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., for the murders of Agents Coler and Williams. He was sentenced June 2, 1977, in Fargo, N.D., two years after the killings at South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, near Wounded Knee.

The Pine Ridge incident occurred June 26, 1975, when Peltier's vehicle was stopped by the two agents who were looking for a suspect in a kidnapping and assault. According to court records, Peltier was himself a fugitive and thought he was about to be arrested.

The records show Peltier fled the vehicle with two other men and began shooting at the agents with semiautomatic rifles. Agents Coler and Williams were immediately wounded. Crime-scene experts testified the agents fired five shots before they were hit, compared with more than 125 bullet holes found in their car.

Prosecutors said Peltier and the two others approached the wounded agents and fired three shots at point-blank range, hitting Agent Williams in the face as he knelt and Agent Coler, who was still unconscious, twice in the head.

Agents taking part in Friday's vigil are part of a nationwide effort by law enforcement authorities to prevent a Peltier pardon. The undertaking is aimed at countering a move by several Hollywood celebrities, many of whom are Democratic campaign donors, to pressure Mr. Clinton to grant the pardon.

The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee has drawn support from the Hollywood community, which contends the FBI withheld evidence and coerced witnesses to win a conviction.

That effort is led by Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Robin Williams and Robert Redford. Defense Committee leaders said they have received positive reaction from both Mr. Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

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