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Supporters of jailed Indian speak out

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They came on bicycles bearing placards, they came with their children and a stroller, and they came in a wheelchair and an oxygen tank.

With staffs tied with strips of cloth, holding eagle feathers and Indian drums, a small group of protesters marched Friday in support of freeing convicted murderer Leonard Peltier, an American Indian activist accused of killing two FBI agents more than two decades ago.Peltier's supporters drew curious glances from passers-by at Liberty Park and then slowed traffic as they methodically made their way along 700 East.

It was there, in front of the Islamic Society of Salt Lake City, that a group of Palestinians watched the procession with curiosity.

None had heard of Peltier.

The public's apathy over Peltier's incarceration is one of the most discouraging struggles his supporters face, one organizer said.

"We need to raise awareness," said Jonathon Hurd, organizer for the Salt Lake Prisoner Support Project.

"Leonard's case is well-known in Europe, much more well known than in America. It has only been recently that people here are starting to pay attention. This protest is an attempt to send a message," he added.

Bilal Alemar, a Palestinian married to a Navajo, accepted from the group a flier espousing Peltier's persecution. Although he admitted he had never heard of the activist, he said he didn't think American Indians had received justice in the United States.

Peltier's supporters contend he was wrongly convicted of the June 26, 1975, killing of federal agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Although four American Indians initially were arrested in the shooting deaths, two of the men were acquitted a year later, and charges were dismissed against a third man.

Peltier, serving two consecutive life sentences at the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas, has drawn a wide circle of support.

Twice this decade, Peltier's requests for parole have been rejected by the U.S. Parole Commission.

Art Tracy, another organizer of Friday's march and rally, said Peltier is just a convenient scapegoat for a government too lazy to discover the truth.

"Today there is no real credible evidence that would consider him guilty."

Tracy, a member of the American Indian Movement, said supporters are urging that Peltier receive a presidential pardon, a new trial or be exonerated.