On June 26, 1975 two FBI Special Agents, Ronald A. Williams, 27, and Jack R. Coler, 28, were killed on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Southwestern South Dakota. Peltier fled to Canada after his friends went on trial for the murder of the two agents. He was captured and extradited to the United States to face trial.
There has been debate over his guilt and the fairness of his trial. Supporters are asking that he be pardoned or paroled.
Near the end of President Bill Clinton's presidency in 2000, rumors began circulating that Clinton was considering granting Peltier clemency. This led to a large campaign against possible clemency orchestrated primarily by FBI agents, culminating in a protest outside the White House by about five hundred agents and their families, and a letter opposing clemency from then FBI director Louis Freeh. Clinton ended up not granting Peltier clemency. Some speculate this was at least partially due to the pressure from these protests.
In 2002, Peltier filed a civil rights lawsuit against the FBI, Louis Freeh, and a long list of FBI agents who had participated in the campaign against his clemency petition, alleging that they "engaged in a systematic and officially sanctioned campaign of misinformation and disinformation." As of August 2003, this suit is still pending.
Peltier is considered a political prisoner by some people and groups including Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchu, Amnesty International, the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, the Dalai Lama, the European Parliament, the Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, and Rev. Jesse Jackson. To many Indigenous Peoples, Leonard Peltier is a symbol of the long history of abuse and repression they have endured.