In 1986, Richard LaFuente was convicted of the murder of Edward Peltier. The prosecution alleged that Mr. LaFuente, along with ten other men, participated in a mob beating of Mr. Peltier, and then ran Mr. Peltier over with a car.
Initially, when Edward Peltier’s body was discovered on the side of a road on August 28, 1983, the police treated his death as a hit and run incident. However, in 1985 law enforcement began collecting statements from witnesses who alleged that Peltier had been beaten and murdered. In January 1986, police asked Mr. LaFuente and his brother-in-law, Mr. Perez, to come to the sheriff’s office. They did so willingly and were arrested on charges of murder. Richard LaFuente was to spend the next 28 years in prison.
Evidence presented at trial contradicted the government’s theory of mob violence. Mr. Peltier’s body showed no signs of an extensive beating. Several of the government’s witnesses recanted their testimony before trial or on the stand. The owner of the house where the party allegedly occurred testified that there was no party that night and she actually refused to allow alcohol at her home, a fact attested by many in the community. All the defendants presented alibis for that night and no connection was ever made between Mr. LaFuente and Mr. Peltier. All defendants claimed innocence and were tried together in a single trial, and despite the fact that they did not all know or like each other, none of the defendants took a deal or offered any incriminating evidence against each other.
Despite the weaknesses of the government’s case, all of the defendants were convicted. Soon after trial the convictions of the nine local men were overturned, only Mr. LaFuente and Mr. Perez, the outsiders, remained in prison. Although Mr. LaFuente was later granted two opportunities for a new trial due to trial court errors and prosecutorial misconduct, these rulings, which would have offered Mr. LaFuente a fair opportunity to prove his innocence, were overturned.
At a hearing in 1994, witnesses for the government came forward, including the victim’s own brother, admitting that they gave false testimony induced by police investigators’ coercive threats against them and their families and threats of jail time if they did not tell the government’s version of events. After hearing the multiple recantations of its witnesses, the government offered Mr. LaFuente and Mr. Perez a deal – if they admitted their guilt, they could go free. Neither would accept the deal because they were innocent.
Over the years, Mr. LaFuente was repeatedly denied parole because he refused to show remorse for something he did not do. Mr. Peltier’s family believes Mr. LaFuente is innocent. They have repeatedly travelled to Mr. LaFuente’s parole hearings and given statements to the parole board on his behalf, asking that he be freed. However, year after year, Mr. LaFuente was repeatedly denied parole for his failure to show remorse even though he had a perfect prison record and strong community and family support for his release.
The Innocence Project of Minnesota (IPMN) represented Mr. LaFuente and filed two clemency petitions on his behalf as well as three appeals of his denials of parole. In 2013, after yet another parole hearing where Mr. Peltier’s sister testified on Mr. LaFuente’s behalf, he was once again denied parole. IPMN filed another appeal of that denial. However, this time the decision to deny parole was reversed and after 28 years in prison, Mr. LaFuente was released from prison.