President Barack Obama,
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
September 5, 2011
Dear President Obama,
We are writing to you today to demand the full exoneration of Lakota elder and spiritual leader Douglas W. White, who died in prison after 17 years of wrongful incarceration.
In 1991, Douglas White was accused of sexually abusing his two grandchildren. A BIA investigator interviewed the boys and a medical doctor examined the boys but found no physical evidence of abuse. In fact, one of the boys denied the charges to the doctor. Although the U.S. Attorney’s office has jurisdiction on federal offenses committed on reservations, the U.S. Attorney declined to prosecute the case. There was no FBI investigation. A hearing was held in tribal court, but the boys denied the charges and the case was dismissed for “insufficient evidence.”
Over a year later, with no further investigation or new evidence, Mr. White was indicted for the same crime by the federal government. At trial, the jury was never informed about the tribal hearing, the denial of the charges in tribal court, or the case’s dismissal.
Despite contradictory testimony from the two grandchildren, and no physical evidence, Mr. White was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.
In 2007, after fourteen years of silence, Roy Helper Jr., the government’s main witness against Mr. White, confessed that he had never been sexually abused by his grandfather.
He signed an affidavit, submitted to psychological evaluations and a polygraph examination which conclusively established that he was now telling the truth. Several members of the original federal jury subsequently recanted their guilty verdicts.
A petition was filed with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which was approved. U.S. Magistrate Judge Veronica Duffy then recommended an immediate hearing. The U.S. Attorney of South Dakota objected to these rulings, arguing that Mr. White knew about Roy Jr.’s confession five years before it actually occurred. Despite being provided with evidence that these claims were false, U.S. District Court Judge Richard H. Battey rejected Duffy’s recommendation and denied White a new hearing. The case was then appealed back to the Eighth Circuit Court. On November 24, 2009, Douglas White died in prison. His case was then declared to be moot. He remains a convicted felon.
Douglas White spent his entire life serving people. He established a legacy of selfless service that is still remembered and honored on Pine Ridge reservation, but his family lives with the dishonor of his wrongful conviction. This is simply unacceptable.
Accordingly, We the People of the United States, and the International Community, demand the following:
(1) A full Apology to the family of Douglas White and the Lakota Nation for the wrongful incarceration and death of Douglas White.
(2) A full Exoneration (not a Pardon) of Douglas White in light of the evidence of Mr. White’s “actual innocence.”
(3) Full monetary Reparation to the family of Douglas White (and/or the Douglas White Defense Fund, a non-profit 501c (3) organization created to aid individuals on the South Dakota Indian reservations in need of legal assistance), for seventeen years of wrongful incarceration in the amount of $800,000.
(4) A full Investigation of the original prosecutorial decision to indict Mr. White in August, 1992. This Investigation should examine the systemic failure evident in this case by identifying the specific roles (and failures) of the following agents:
• Lyle Brings Him Back (deceased), BIA Criminal Investigator
• Sheryl Martinez, OST Social Worker
• Charles Ruffing, Loneman School Counselor
• Original FBI Agent assigned to the Douglas White Case
• Kevin Schieffer, U.S. Attorney, South Dakota 1991-1993
• Diana Ryan, Assistant U.S. Attorney, 1992-1993
• Daniel Ashmore, Court-Appointed Defense (Trial) Attorney
• Judge Andrew Bogue (Trial) (deceased)
• Federal Jury Members
• Judge Richard H. Battey (Sentencing & Appeal)
• Al Arendt, (Court-Appointed Appeal Defense Attorney)
• Eighth Circuit Court Judges (Original Appeal)
• Marty Jackley, U. S. Attorney, South Dakota (2007-2008)
• Robert Gusinsky, Assistant U. S. Attorney, South Dakota (2007-2009)
• Brendan Johnson, U. S. Attorney, South Dakota (2009)
• Pardon Attorney, Department of Justice (2007-2009)
• Wardens of Waseca and Rochester, MN (Compassionate Release requests)
• Eric Holder, Attorney General
• President Barack Obama
Douglas White deserves a full exoneration, even if it is only a posthumous one. His family, legacy, and people, deserve this much.
88 year-old Douglas White, the oldest living holy man from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, died in prison on November 24, 2009. He spent the last 17 years of his life incarcerated for a crime he did not commit.
The government didn’t want to admit that it made a mistake. Despite possessing conclusive evidence of Douglas’ innocence, the government fabricated a technicality to keep an innocent man in prison.
Douglas never got a fair trial from the very beginning. But after 14 years in prison, new evidence of his actual innocence was discovered. He played by all the rules and the government robbed him of the opportunity to clear his name and spend his last days with his people. To this day, the government refuses to be accountable and thinks it can wash the blood off its hands and declare the case “moot.”
This case is a shameless and corrupt collusion of power between the Court system and the US Attorney’s office who act as if they are above the law.
This is not just an “Indian problem.” This is a problem for all Americans, for all people, everywhere because if it could happen to him, it could happen to any one of us. And it does, all the time.
Let’s not let this holy man have died in vain.
Douglas’ case is a glaring example of the corruption in the US justice system and can set a precedent that could change the way justice is served in this country.
By demanding an investigation into this travesty of justice, we can expose this systemic corruption and prevent this from ever happening again.
Please sign the petition. For more information on the film about Douglas case, “Holy Man: The USA vs Douglas White,” please visit www.holymanfilm.com.