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.