BISMARCK, North Dakota -- American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, imprisoned since 1977 for the deaths of two FBI agents, has been denied parole after authorities decided that releasing him would diminish the seriousness of his crime, a federal prosecutor said Friday.
Peltier, who claims the FBI framed him, will not be eligible for parole again until July 2024, when he will be 79 years old.. 15 years from now. U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley announced the decision of the U.S. Parole Commission.
Peltier is serving two life sentences for the execution-style deaths of FBI agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams during a June 26, 1975, standoff on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was convicted in Fargo, N.D., in 1977.
He has said the FBI framed him, which the agency denies, and unsuccessfully appealed his conviction numerous times. He also was denied parole in 1993.
"Leonard Peltier is an unrepentant, cold-blooded murderer who executed FBI special agents Williams and Coler, and in doing that he tore them from their families and from their communities forever," Wrigley said. "Leonard Peltier is exactly where he belongs - federal prison, serving two life sentences."
An angry defense attorney Eric Seitz declined to comment Friday, saying the Parole Commission had not had the "courtesy" to inform him of the decision. "We've heard nothing," he said.
Parole Commission spokesman Tom Hutchison said the board notifies both sides of a decision, and can't control whether one party makes it public before the other can be notified.
Peltier had a full parole hearing for the first time in 15 years last month at the Lewisburg, Pa., federal prison where he is being held.
The hearing was closed to the public, but Seitz said he focused on factors that would support parole. He said a representative from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa reservation in North Dakota, where Peltier grew up, said the tribe had made arrangements to incorporate Peltier back into society should he be paroled. Seitz also said Peltier has had no documented misconduct in prison in the past 10 years.
"His supporters are going to be crushed because they believed this time that he actually might have had a chance to be released," according to CBS Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "I don't know if there is a direct link, but it certainly didn't help his chances that there was such outrage yesterday over the early release on compassionate grounds of the Lockerbie bomber."
Cohen said Friday's ruling practically guarantees that Peltier will die in prison.
"His best chance now of getting out of prison alive is to receive a pardon or clemency from the president of the United States, which I suppose is possible but certainly not likely anytime soon from this or any other president," Cohen said.
Wrigley said Peltier's past criminal conduct while behind bars was a factor in the Parole Commission's decision. In 1979, Peltier escaped for a time in California, and he also has had numerous infractions in prison, some of them drug-related.
Wrigley also said that Peltier "has neither accepted responsibility for the murders nor shown any remorse."
Seitz said earlier that the 64-year-old Peltier is in poor health, with diabetes, high blood pressure, a jaw problem and a urinary system ailment.
Parole was abolished for federal convicts in 1987, but Peltier remains eligible because he was convicted before then.