Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the longest-serving member of the Senate, delivered an urgent message Friday to his former longtime colleague, President Joe Biden: Let Leonard Peltier go home.
“I urge President Biden to commute Leonard Peltier’s prison sentence and release him from federal prison,” Leahy said in a statement. “Peltier, a prominent Native American activist, was imprisoned for crimes he and many other legal experts and advocates maintain he never committed. His trial was so riddled with flaws that even one of the prosecutors trying him has acknowledged that Peltier was wrongfully convicted. Peltier, now 77 years old and ailing with multiple health problems, has served more than 44 years in federal prison.”
Peltier “is exactly the kind of individual who should be considered for clemency,” the statement said.
Leahy, who served in the Senate with Biden for 36 years, said the criminal justice system is clearly imperfect, and that Peltier “knows firsthand just how imperfect it can be.”
“I have long believed that pardons and commutations are vital tools to offer clemency and relief, particularly when our criminal justice system has been contorted to propagate injustices,” said the Vermont Democrat. “I call on President Biden to commute Mr. Peltier’s sentence expeditiously. It is the right thing to do.”
A spokesperson for the White House said that officials there are aware there is a renewed push for Peltier’s release from prison, but didn’t give details beyond that.
“We are aware of Mr. Peltier’s request for a pardon and the outreach in support of his request. As many of you know, President Biden has a process for considering all requests for pardon or commutation, which is run through our White House Counsel’s Office,” the spokesperson said. “I don’t have more to share on Mr. Peltier’s request at this time.”
Last week, Peltier told HuffPost that his prison’s constant COVID-19 lockdowns and failure to provide him and other inmates with booster shots have left him, and likely others, unbearably isolated and preparing for death. He is particularly vulnerable to COVID’s effects given his serious health problems, which include diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Days later, Peltier tested positive for COVID-19.
Peltier, who the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office put in prison decades ago without any evidence that he committed a crime, is now in quarantine.
Leahy’s Friday statement marks the second time he’s addressed Peltier’s imprisonment in recent months. In November, he didn’t hesitate at all when HuffPost asked if he thought it was time for Peltier to go home.
“Yes,” he said flatly.
Leahy’s latest remarks appear to be the first time, though, that he has publicly called for Peltier’s freedom unprompted. To date, he is the highest-ranked official in the U.S. government urging Peltier’s release. Leahy, who is not seeking reelection this year, is third in the line of succession to the presidency, just after Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Biden and Leahy are still clearly in touch, at least through staff. Leahy was among those in attendance at a White House event on Wednesday marking the president’s renewed push on his Cancer Moonshot program.