Lawyers have failed to persuade a federal judge in Buffalo to release a key document that they argue could lead to a new trial for Leonard Peltier, now serving consecutive life sentences for the 1975 shooting deaths of two FBI agents in South Dakota.
Citing legal provisions that protect identities of FBI personnel and confidential sources, U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny has refused to provide the full text of a 1975 Teletype message from the FBI's Buffalo office to then-FBI Director Clarence M. Kelley.
A version with parts blacked out had been released last year.
Peltier's attorneys contend the message suggests that a New York FBI informant might have been trying to infiltrate Peltier's defense team.
Michael Kuzma, a Buffalo lawyer and member of Peltier's defense team, expressed frustration at the ruling.
"The judge didn't deal with my arguments about COINTELPRO and the FBI's war on the American Indian Movement," Kuzma said, referring to a domestic intelligence-gathering program launched in the late 1960s. "He sidestepped that issue, and it's key because (Freedom of Information Act) exemptions cannot be used to shield illegal or unauthorized investigative tactics."
COINTELPRO had included widespread surveillance of anti-war activists and others protesting government policies.
Supporters have long considered Peltier a "political prisoner" and contend, with some validation in later court rulings, that withheld evidence and coerced testimony had marred his trial.
In 1976, Kelley testified that the FBI may have used informants against the American Indian Movement, whose members included Peltier, and that the organization had been on the bureau's list of "domestic terrorists."
Over the years, the FBI, which considers Peltier a cold-blooded killer, has fought release of its files on Peltier and spoken out against possible clemency.
Skretny deferred a final decision on releasing seven of the 15 requested pages; all had been withheld on national security grounds.
The attorney said he would appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York City.
Peltier, a native of Grand Forks, N.D., has spent half of his 60 years behind bars in maximum-security prisons, most recently in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas.