Kahl Sues Feds
Cross Fingers; Hope Kahl, Peltier May Finally Get Fair Shake, Be Released
There is renewed hope for the release of two
federal prisoners, who have languished in prison for more than two decades,
convicted in separate cases for their involvement in alarmingly similar
government sting operations which went terribly awry. Now, in a major lawsuit
filed this week in Washington, D.C., these inmates claim federal officials
knowingly violated their rights and U.S. law for over a decade by illegally
extending their prison terms.
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 Feb. 13, 1983.
After trial, undisputed evidence of government
misconduct was uncovered in each of these controversial cases.
AFP readers are well aware of the plights of Kahl
and Peltier, both of whom were imprisoned on questionable evidence and false
testimony more than 20 years ago.
What most readers do not know is that both of these
cases were tried in the same federal district court in North Dakota by the same
judge, Paul Benson, and prosecutors, Lynn Crooks and Dennis Fisher—all of which
has caused many to question the integrity of the trials.
The 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; and the
current director of the Bureau of Prisons, Harley Lappin; as well as former
directors J. Michael Quinlan and Kathleen Hawk Sawyer.
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 (SRA). Effective on Oct. 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 Oct. 11, 1989, the commission would cease to exist.
The 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.
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, however, did not restore the
Parole Commission or remove its obligation to establish mandatory release
dates, with sufficient time for appeal, by Oct. 11, 1989. These changes to the
law also applied only to crimes committed after the law was amended on Dec. 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
The plaintiffs should have been given their
release dates by Oct. 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.
According to lawyers for Kahl and Peltier, the
Parole Commission, lacking in any statutory authority, 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 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.
“This is an important lawsuit in which Yorie and
Leonard should be granted freedom, if they are dealt the justice they are due,”
said Barry Bachrach, the attorney for the two. “And this lawsuit should compel