Skip to comments.Wife of AIM leader says Leonard Peltier admitted killing FBI agents
Posted on 02/05/2004 7:42:25 PM PST by Land_of_Lincoln_John
RAPID CITY -- With a courtroom hanging on her every word, the former common-law wife of American Indian Movement leader Dennis Banks testified Wednesday that she and the late Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash heard Leonard Peltier brag about killing two FBI agents at Oglala in 1975.
Darlene Nichols, also known as Ka-Mook Nichols, said the women were traveling with Peltier and Banks in late 1975. "He (Peltier) put his hand like this," she said, using her thumb and forefinger to imitate a gun, "and started talking about the two FBI agents."
Nichols continued tearfully, "He said, 'That (expletive) was begging for his life, but I shot him anyway.'"
Peltier, who is currently serving consecutive life sentences for the deaths of agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams, maintains he is innocent. His attorney, Barry Bachrach, denied Nichols' accusations in an interview with The Associated Press, saying: "I'm not sure who put her up to it, but it is unequivocally false. This whole trial is about smearing Leonard and other AIM people and covering up history."
Nichols' words were the most riveting part of the first full day of testimony in the murder trial of Arlo Looking Cloud, who is accused of helping to kill AIM activist Pictou-Aquash in December 1975. Nichols' testimony was part of a larger picture as prosecutors sought to show that Pictou-Aquash feared for her life in the months before her death.
Nichols had a front-row seat for AIM activities in the 1970s. She joined the movement as a teenager and soon became involved with Banks, with whom she had four children before they separated 17 years later.
She told how, during a national AIM convention in June 1975, there were repeated rumors and accusations that Pictou-Aquash was a federal informant.
Defense attorney Tim Rensch objected repeatedly to that and similar testimony, saying the answers involved hearsay. In most cases, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol ruled that the testimony had limited admissibility: Jurors could not take the statements as fact but could consider them as evidence of Pictou-Aquash's state of mind.
Nichols said the rumors were openly discussed and that Pictou-Aquash was obviously upset and afraid. "I heard that (Peltier) had taken her away from the camp in a car and had put a gun to her head and wanted to know if she was an informant," Nichols testified. "She told him that if he believed that, he could go ahead and shoot."
Peltier, Banks, Nichols, Nichols' sister and Pictou-Aquash began traveling together by motor home in the fall of 1975, when Peltier and Banks were both fugitives. Nichols said Pictou-Aquash was watched constantly. "Somebody always went around with her," she said.
In Oregon, a highway patrol officer stopped the vehicle. Everyone but Banks got out, and Banks drove away and escaped. Peltier started running and was shot, but Nichols said he, too, managed to escape. The others were arrested, and Nichols and Pictou-Aquash shared a jail cell for weeks.
U.S. Attorney Jim McMahon asked what Pictou-Aquash's state of mind was. "She was upset. She was crying," Nichols said. "I knew that she was scared of Leonard and Dennis at that point."
Nichols, who clutched an eagle feather while on the witness stand, said she never saw Pictou-Aquash alive after that. She learned Pictou-Aquash was dead when Banks called her on Feb. 24, 1976 - the same day Pictou-Aquash's body was found. Earlier in the day, retired FBI agents had testified that they weren't able to identify Pictou-Aquash's decomposed body until after her severed hands were sent to a Washington, D.C., lab, where fingerprints could be taken.
Nichols said she remembered the day Banks called because it was her nephew's birthday. Later, she chose to cooperate with law enforcement, she said. "I (had) started believing the American Indian Movement had something to do with it."
Nichols said she contacted the FBI and later wore a wire to record conversations with Looking Cloud, Banks and others.
In cross-examination, Rensch asked Nichols about her work as a California movie casting director. She admitted that her salary is irregular and that she earned only about $9,000 last year.
"Do you have plans to sell your story?" Rensch asked her.
"No," she replied.
Rensch also questioned whether Pictou-Aquash was really being held against her will in the motor home. Nichols said Pictou-Aquash wasn't tied up and didn't ask to leave. "I think if she had wanted to leave, there would have been an incident," she said.
Nichols testified that she has received $42,000 from the federal government, some of it reimbursement for her travel expenses. The government also paid to move Nichols from California to a safer location in New Mexico because of her involvement with the case. She said she moved again after Banks learned where she was living.
Former AIM member Mathalene White Bear also testified that Pictou-Aquash was afraid in 1975. Pictou-Aquash came to see her in California that September, White Bear said, and told White Bear that threats had been made on her life.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't she also afraid of the FBI?" McMahon asked.
"Yes," White Bear said.
Before Pictou-Aquash left, she showed White Bear an unusual silver filigree ring. She also gave her a phone number, saying that she hoped the next time White Bear saw the ring, it would be on Pictou-Aquash's finger. "But if it were to come to me another way, then what I was to do was to call that phone number," White Bear said.
White Bear later received three phone calls from Pictou-Aquash. The first time, Pictou-Aquash said she was OK and was waiting for word on what to do next. The second time, she was more upset. "She said she felt like she was being caged in," White Bear said. "The people she was with had her afraid to go outside. They had her afraid that she was being watched, is the feeling she got."
By the third call, Pictou-Aquash sounded scared. "She knew something was going wrong," White Bear said. That call was disconnected.
White Bear cried, saying that was the last time she spoke with Pictou-Aquash. A few days after that call, she testified, "I got a little box in the mail ... And when I opened it up, all that was in there was the silver ring."
White Bear called the telephone number Pictou-Aquash had left, which belonged to John Trudell, a former national AIM president and poet. He picked up the ring.
"Then, I spent 28 years of hell waiting to find out what happened, the truth," she said.
Earlier in the day, several retired FBI agents and experts testified about how the investigation and autopsies were conducted.
Rensch questioned agents about cultivating agents, and whether any were involved in "Cointelpro," a counterintelligence program. All denied any involvement.
Rensch asked if retired FBI agent William Wood had ever tried to "snitch jacket" a person - to start rumors that people were government agents when they really weren't.
"Absolutely not, no," Wood replied. "As far as I know, that wasn't a technique that was used."
Testimony resumes at 9 a.m. today.
Note: The following text is a quote:
August 21, 2009
FBI Responds to United States Parole Commission Decision to Deny Parole to Leonard Peltier
Statement of Thomas J. Harrington, Executive Assistant Director, FBI Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch:
The FBI family has never forgotten the ultimate sacrifice made by FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, and we fully support the decision of the United States Parole Commission to deny parole to Leonard Peltier. His callous criminal acts demonstrated a complete disrespect for human life and for the law. His time served in jail for their 1975 murders has not diminished the brutality of his crimes or the pain and sorrow felt by the families of his victims or the FBI family.
Read Harringtons July 28, 2009 request for denial of parole for Leonard Peltier.
Note: The following text is a quote:
Major Executive Speeches
Thomas J. Harrington
Executive Assistant Director - Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Statement Before the United States Parole Commission Re: United States v. Leonard Peltier (Register # 89637-132)
July 28, 2009
I appear today to oppose the parole request of Leonard Peltier, who is serving two consecutive life sentences for the murders of FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams. We in the Federal Bureau of Investigation vehemently oppose granting Mr. Peltier parole.
The intentional and vicious attack by Mr. Peltier was not simply a blatant attack on two FBI special agents; it was an attack on law enforcement as a wholean attack on the rule of law. The inevitable haziness brought on by the passage of time does not diminish the brutality of the crimes or the lifelong torment to the surviving families. Those surviving families extend beyond the Coler and Williams to the entire FBI family. Moderation or lenience in terms of Mr. Peltiers sentence can only signal disregard and disrespect to the law enforcement community as a whole, and to the families of Special Agents Coler and Williams.
I was in college when Special Agents Coler and Williams were shot and killed. My dad, who was also an FBI special agent, was assigned to the Directors Office and served as a supervisor within the FBIs press office at the time. In that capacity, he handled media inquiries and interview requests for not only information regarding the murders, but the resulting investigation, trial, and conviction of Mr. Peltier. I remember witnessing the toll this horrific act took on my father and his colleagues, and the sorrow they felt. I also remember the pride they felt for Ron Williams and Jack Coler for their courage to stand up against evil, their service and commitment as American patriots, their commitment to the highest ideals of the FBI, and their sacrifice as law enforcement martyrs. I thought to myself, What kind of person would do such a thing?
We now know what kind of person would undertake such a callous and ultimately cowardly act. And regardless of the myriad of excuses proffered by Mr. Peltier, his conviction for these cold-blooded executions stands.
The facts of this case have not changed. These same facts formed the basis for Mr. Peltiers conviction, and have been fully set forth in multiple appellate records.
These facts are discussed in some detail in the letter submitted to this commission by the U.S. Attorneys Office of North Dakota, and dated May 29, 2009. As such, they need not be recited in full here. But a few salient points should be made.
During the shootout with Mr. Peltier and his associates, all of whom were members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), Special Agents Coler and Williams were wounded. However, their wounds were not fatal. Mr. Peltier approached these two agents as they lay on the ground, wounded and disabled. Mr. Peltier then shot both agents at point-blank range.
Corroborating evidence confirms this chain of events. During Mr. Peltiers trial, a witness testified that he saw Mr. Peltier standing by the agents cars, holding an AR-15 gunthe gun used to execute Special Agents Coler and Williams. No other individuals were witnessed holding or shooting that particular gun on that day. Several witnesses testified that the AR-15 was Mr. Peltiers weapon.
A ballistics expert testified that ammunition components recovered from the scene of the crime matched an AR-15 that was recovered from a vehicle operated by other individuals placed at the scene of the crime.
In 1975, Oregon State Police stopped a station wagon and a motor home in which Mr. Peltier was traveling. He again evaded capture during a gun fight and fled to Canada. Upon searching the vehicles, Oregon authorities recovered from the motor home Special Agent Colers service revolver in a paper bag bearing Mr. Peltiers thumbprint.
As proved during Mr. Peltiers trial, these facts alone justify his conviction and his continued incarceration. But in addition, new evidence further confirming Mr. Peltiers guilt has come to light since his most recent parole hearingadditional evidence that Mr. Peltier himself executed these special agents at point-blank range.
During the 2004 murder trial of Arlo Looking Cloud, an AIM member, for the murder of Anna Mae Aquash, also an AIM member, a witness testified that Mr. Peltier admitted that he shot one of the FBI agents. This witness, Darlene Nichols, is a former AIM member who had associated with Mr. Peltier and other AIM leaders on various occasions.
Ms. Nichols testified that in the fall of 1975, while she was traveling westward from South Dakota in a motor home with Mr. Peltier and several other AIM members, Mr. Peltier began to talk about Agents Coler and Williams. He stated that one of the agents was begging for his life, but I shot him anyway. Shortly thereafter, the motor home was stopped by the Oregon State Patrol and a gun fight broke out and Mr. Peltier escaped and fled to Canada.
Per federal statute, parole may only be granted where the release of the prisoner would not depreciate the seriousness of his offense or promote disrespect for the law, and where that release would not jeopardize the public welfare. A primary factor in any decision to grant parole rests on a sincere expression of remorse and accountability for the crime for which a prospective parolee was convicted.
To this day, Mr. Peltier refuses to recognize his role in the murders of Special Agents Coler and Williams. He has shown no remorse in the more than three decades he has been imprisoned. Rather, he has distorted the evidence, he has manipulated the media, and he has resorted to lies and half-truths in order to sway public attention from the facts at hand. Time and again, he has appealed his conviction. Time and again, he has requested parole, while continuing to maintain his innocence, or while blaming the government for the circumstances surrounding his conviction. And all to no avail. His conviction, rightly and fairly obtained, still stands, and has withstood multiple appeals to multiple courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Granting Mr. Peltier parole would only serve to minimize his responsibility and depreciate the seriousness of these crimes.
Nor can Mr. Peltier legitimately claim that he poses no threat to society or to the public welfare. This act of brutality was not an isolated incident in Mr. Peltiers history. Mr. Peltier had been charged with attempted murder in Wisconsin in 1972. He jumped bond prior to that trial, and was a fugitive when he murdered Special Agents Coler and Williams. He again fled the scene. In 1975, when the Oregon State Patrol stopped the motor home in which he was riding, he shot at the state trooper and escaped on foot. He then broke into a nearby home and stole a rifle and a vehicle. He was later arrested in Canada in 1976, while in possession of multiple firearms. After he was convicted on the murders of Agents Coler and Williams, Mr. Peltier escaped from a federal prison in 1979, armed himself with a rifle, and shot at prison staff members.
In short, these are not the actions of a citizen who respects and abides by the law. These are not the actions of an innocent or wronged person. These are actions that show a total disregard for the safety of others, and a complete disrespect for the rule of law.
Finally, we cannot forget the lifelong impact of Mr. Peltiers actions on those most affected. The families of Special Agents Coler and Williams have borne pain and loss that few can understand. Ellen Williams lost her only son. Peggy Coler lost her husband and the father of her two young sonssons who would never know their father apart from the telling of his life and his death. Mr. Peltiers continued appeals, his continued protests of innocence, and his continued excuse that he was the victim of the criminal justice system and of political gamesmanship have only served to stunt the healing process and to further victimize the families of these slain agents.
Jack Coler and Ronald Williams were in the prime of their lives, each just 28 years old. They were dedicated family men and equally dedicated public servants. The facts surrounding their deaths cannot and should not be forgotten or put aside, by the FBI family, by their families, or by the American public.
We must never forget that Mr. Peltier callously and intentionally took the lives of two young men, and took those men from their families and from the FBI. No amount of prison time served can make these families or the law enforcement community whole, particularly given Mr. Peltiers lack of remorse and responsibility.
I know for myself and most of my colleagues, our desire to become FBI special agents and serve the American public was built on the history of the work, legends, and sacrifices of those who have gone before us. The short productive lives and ultimate sacrifice of Jack Coler and Ronald Williams have inspired thousands of FBI special agents and their families. To grant parole to their unrepentant murderer would only inflict more pain and suffering. For these reasons, I and the FBI families respectfully request that Mr. Peltiers request for parole be denied.
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