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Old 06-29-2004, 04:00 PM   #1
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Publisher settles lawsuit with Peltier

Publisher settles lawsuit with Peltier

Posted: June 17, 2004 - 7:58am EST
by: David Melmer / Indian Country Today

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Leonard Peltier has agreed to a settlement in a lawsuit he filed against publisher and editor Paul DeMain in answer to published statements that were defamatory toward Peltier.

The settlement, which occurred more than one year after the original libel lawsuit was filed, required that DeMain issue a letter agreeable to both parties. That statement was to correct information originally printed by DeMain that implied that Peltier was somehow involved in the death of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash in 1975. DeMain stated that according to his sources the motive for her killing was her alleged knowledge that Peltier had personally shot to death two FBI agents at Oglala, S.D. in 1975. DeMain had to agree to write that there were numerous instances of questionable conduct by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in connection with prosecution of American Indians. He was also to print that there was a legal, social and political environment on the Pine Ridge Reservation during the 1970s that would compare to a war zone. Also he was to admit misconduct in the judicial system historically as regarded cases with American Indians.

Most important DeMain was to make the statement he didnít believe that Peltier received a fair trial in connection with the FBI agentís deaths; and that he did not believe, according to the evidence and testimony that he now had, that Peltier had any involvement in the death of Pictou-Aquash.

Peltier agreed to dismiss the lawsuit against DeMain with prejudice, meaning that he would not file it again.

The original statement printed by DeMain in News From Indian Country as an editorís note to an article read: "News From Indian Country, and I as editor of that publication, stand by our credible and trusted sources and my present belief, that the primary motive for the murder of Annie Mae Pictou-Aquash by other members of the American Indian Movement in mid-December 1975, allegedly was her knowledge that Leonard Peltier had shot the two agents, as he was convicted.

"She shared that information with other people Iíve met and a resolution to the Aquash case will bear this out," DeMain wrote.

The original complaint filed by Peltier requested a trial by jury. Peltier wanted no compensation, just a statement of truth from DeMain.

Peltier was convicted in the 1975 killings of two FBI agents near Oglala on the Pine Ridge Reservation during what has been termed by many as a time of war on the reservation. Peltier has always maintained his innocence. He is imprisoned at Leavenworth, Kan.

"Justice is possible for both Anna Mae and Leonard Peltier, but justice wonít be done in either case by people falsely pointing fingers of blame," said Barry Bachrach, attorney for Peltier. "Leonardís only concern is for truth, which is why monetary damages are not a part of this settlement."

DeMainís original statement that Peltier was involved in the shooting incident was false because the federal government admitted it could not prove that Peltier shot the agents, the complaint stated.

The original complaint stated that DeMain published and circulated the statements and did so with "reckless disregard whether or not they were false."

As a result, the complaint states, Peltier suffered mental anguish and damage to his reputation.

When the libel suit was filed, DeMain, in an interview with Indian Country Today, said Peltier was painted into a corner. He said many people would like "to find out who Iím talking to."

Bachrach didnít indicate that the sources for DeMainís information was a top priority. The most important point in the lawsuit was the printed defamatory statements. When the libel suit was filed Bachrach said Peltier was tired of DeMain making statements based on unknown sources.

Peltier has been denied a parole hearing until 2008 and an appellate court decision has denied any appeal hearing before that time. Peltier has served more time without parole than any other person that received the same sentencing.

The federal government has admitted, with testimony from Lynn Crooks, assistant U.S. Attorney at the time of the trial in 1977, that a case cannot be proven that Peltier pulled the trigger that killed the two FBI agents.

"The case against Mr. Peltier was tried on the basis that he was shooting from the sidelines at least and that was first degree murder," Crooks told the Circuit Court. "Insofar as the United States was concerned, this case was tried on an aiding and abetting theory. It was argued that way. It was tried that way."

For nearly 25 years DeMain, through his publication and in person, has supported the Free Peltier Movement and printed information that would help Peltier.

"After looking at the trial records, the evidentiary appeals of Peltier, the Myrtle Poor Bear affidavits, the issue of ballistics test, I had believed the FBI may have engaged in the fabrication of evidence," DeMain said.

"I have since come to believe that the FBI may have fabricated evidence to frame a guilty man. I always thought that it was a coin toss in regards to guilt or innocence when you look at the issue of the judicial process I came to believe that his claim that he was innocent may be true. I had an element of doubt," DeMain said when the libel suit was filed.

Before printing the defamatory statement, DeMain said he interviewed 50 or 60 people and conducted 90 interviews in the Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash case. He based his comments on those interviews.

DeMain previously told Indian Country Today he didnít believe that Pictou-Aquash was an informant, based on all he read and the people he had interviewed; and he also said he doubts that she would have ever turned Peltier in to the authorities. He said his information came from people who witnessed the shooting or who were at Oglala at the time. He declined to reveal his sourcesí identities, but said they may be willing to come forward in the future.

DeMain said the settlement statement was negotiated and that he was not asked, nor would he have recanted the original story. He repeated to ICT on June 9 that he would stand by the credibility of his sources.

Four American Indian people were arrested for the murder of the two FBI agents. Robert Robideau, Darrell "Dino" Butler, James Eagle and Peltier. Robideau and Butler were acquitted by a jury in Iowa after which the case against Eagle was dismissed.

Peltier was tried in North Dakota and convicted in June 1977 and sentenced to two consecutive life terms.

Arlo Looking Cloud was arrested and John Graham was indicted for the murder of Pictou-Aquash. Looking Cloud was convicted of aiding and abetting in that murder and is serving a life sentence. Graham will face an extradition hearing from Canada in December.

Peltier has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work while in prison.
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