From the October 2004 Idaho Observer:


Kahl, Peltier sue federal government for illegal imprisonment

Leonard Peltier and Yorie Von Kahl have a lot in common. They were both convicted of murdering federal agents; they were both prosecuted by the same prosecutor and judged by the same judge; neither man actually shot a federal agent (both just happened to be at the scene) and; they both found out after conviction that official misconduct was largely, if not totally, responsible for events that lead to the deaths of federal agents. Over the years, both Peltier and Kahl have become icons of political imprisonment. To date, no matter how compelling the evidence in support of reversing their respective convictions, release in any form is denied and all motions summarily dismissed or ignored. It would appear that it is the federal government’s intention to keep these two political prisoners behind bars for the rest of their lives. Now the combined resources of Peltier and Kahl are exploring a new angle and both plaintiffs in this lawsuit are beginning to feel as if they may prevail this time. We believe that the weight of public pressure, combined with a sound legal argument confined to procedural/statutory issues, could coalesce into an important victory for Americans.

September 3, 2003—In a major lawsuit filed earlier this week in Washington, D.C., two federal prisoners are claiming that United States Department of Justice officials knowingly violated the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (and its amendments) by illegally extending the inmates’ prison terms for over a decade.

The lawsuit was brought by Leonard Peltier, now serving consecutive life sentences for the alleged killing of two FBI agents on June 26, 1975 and Yorie Von Kahl, serving life plus 15 years for the alleged killing of two U.S. marshals on February 13, 1983.

In both cases evidence of government misconduct was uncovered after conviction.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include the U.S. Parole Commission and individuals who have served on the Commission during the past two decades: Attorney General John Ashcroft and former Attorneys General Edwin Meese, Richard Thornburgh, William Barr, and Janet Reno. Also named as defendants are current Director of the Bureau of Prisons Harley Lappin, as well as former directors J. Michael Quinlan and Kathleen Hawk Sawyer.

The Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) was passed to address what Congress thought were inconsistent sentences imposed by different judges on different individuals convicted of the same crimes, as well as arbitrary parole decisions. A new system—one of determinate sentences—was born and the Parole Commission was abolished.

At the heart of the suit is the refusal of the government to enforce Title II, Chapter II, Section 235(b)(3) of the Sentencing Reform Act. Effective on October 12, 1984, this part of the law ordered that parole dates "consistent with the applicable parole guideline" be issued to all "old system" prisoners within the following five-year period, at the end of which time (on October 11, 1989) the commission would cease to exist.

On December 7, 1987, Congress enacted Public Law 100-182 which amended the SRA; repealed, in Section 2, the release criteria established by the original section 235(b)(3); and restored the release criteria under 18 U.S.C. 4206. This amendment did not restore the Parole Commission or remove its obligation to establish mandatory release dates, with sufficient time for appeal, by October 11, 1989. These changes to the law also applied only to crimes committed after the law was amended on December 7, 1987. The amendment simply did not apply to the plaintiffs or to the some 6,000 other "old system" prisoners still held by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons today.

After it had technically ceased to exist, the Parole Commission claimed it needed more time to complete its work. Congress inexplicably granted a number of after-the-fact extensions, the first in 1990 and the latest in 2002. The suit claims these extensions were legally invalid and therefore inapplicable because, at the time they were made, the Parole Commission had already been abolished.

The plaintiffs should have been given their release dates by October 11, 1989, minus sufficient time to exhaust appeals. Had the Parole Commission followed the congressional mandate, Peltier would have been released over 12 years ago. Lacking in any statutory authority, the U.S. Parole Commission, in fact, illegally extended the terms of imprisonment of both men. The failure of the Parole Commission to give release dates to Peltier and Kahl violated the ex post facto, bill of attainder, and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs have demanded a permanent injunction preventing further misapplication of the SRA and its amendments by the government; enforcement of the rights created by the original section 235(b)(3); and, due to irreparable injuries suffered by Peltier and Kahl, compensatory and punitive damages as determined by a jury.

For more information regarding this lawsuit, contact Barry Bachrach, Esquire; Bowditch & Dewey, 311 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01615; (508) 926-3403 or bbachrach@bowditch.com.

For inquiries about Leonard Peltier, contact the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, PO Box 583, Lawrence, KS 66044-0583; (785) 842-5774; info@leonardpeltier.org.

For inquiries about Yorie Von Kahl, write to PO Box 597, Benton, LA 71006; www.yorievonkahl.com.

The book "A Writ of Habeas Corpus" by Yorie Von Kahl (2004) is a comprehensive look at all events leading up to the tragic events of Feb. 13, 1983 and evidence uncovered subsequent to Kahl’s murder conviction (see ad page 6).