The Butler-Robideau Trial
Darrelle "Dino" Butler
and Bob Robideau stood trial separately from Leonard Peltier who,
convinced he would never receive a fair trial in the United States, had
fled to Canada.
The defense team succeeded in
getting the trial moved from racist South Dakota to Cedar
Rapids, Iowa. Cedar Rapids was, however, a predominantly white
city and concerns remained as to the likelihood of Butler and Robideau receiving a fair trial.
the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began setting the stage for the
defendants' convictions. Agents warned local police that carloads of
American Indian Movement (AIM) "terrorists" were descending on the town.
On May 11,1976, U.S. marshals visited every office in the Federal Building
(where the trial was to be held), telling folks to prepare for shooting
incidents and the seizure of hostages and advising them that marshals on
the roof would be on the lookout for marauding Indians.
Elsewhere, rumors about alleged renegade
activity ran rampant. A report allegedly emanating from Connecticut police
intelligence, for example, stated that a "terrorist" group affiliated with
AIM had hatched a plan "to kill a cop a day." The report failed to mention
that the organization referenced was defunct.
On June 22, the FBI released a teletype that
was distributed to law enforcement agencies throughout the country. It
claimed that 2,000 AIM "Dog Soldiers" trained in "the Northwest Territory"
would fan out across South Dakota and would kidnap, bomb, burn, snipe...
all to disrupt the Bicentennial Celebration.
When the 2,000 "Dog Soldiers" didn't show up
in South Dakota and the rest of the FBI's scare campaign was shown to be a lie, the Cedar
Rapids community began to look at AIM members, who had peaceably assembled
there for the trial, with a fresh eye and view the government's machinations
Presided over by Judge Edward McManus, the
trial commenced on June 7, 1976.
The defendants admitted that they were
present at the shoot-out and had exchanged fire with the FBI agents in the
course of defending their women and children.
In a search for the truth,
Judge McManus allowed a broad range of evidence to be heard, often over
the vigorous objections of the prosecutor. This allowed the jury to
receive a full explanation of how the shoot-out had occurred and why
the Native defendants reacted as they did.
Testimony was heard about the Pine Ridge
"Reign of Terror" and from the director of the FBI himself, Clarence
Kelley, on the Bureau's counterintelligence activities and tactics.
Testimony prompted by the defense attorneys also brought forward a pattern
of FBI misconduct in other prosecutions of AIM members, specifically those
Wounded Knee II.
During the trial, a key prosecution witness, Mr. Draper,
also admitted that he had been threatened by the FBI and as a result had changed
his testimony based on agents’ instructions, so as to support the
government’s position. Another prosecution witness also was shown to have
lied on the witness stand.
Clearly, the evidence heard at trial was
sufficient to convince the jury of the defendants' claims. Further, the government's behavior before and during the trail
severely damaged its credibility. In July, the jurors found that
there was no evidence to link Butler and Robideau to the fatal shots. Moreover,
the exchange of gun fire from a distance was deemed an act of self-defense.
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (Viking, 1983).