the crime

IN THE PREDAWN HOURS of August 28, 1983, the battered body of Jerome Eddie Peltier, an American Indian and former policeman, was found on a highway on the Devils Lake Sioux Reservation in Ft. Totten, North Dakota. What at first appeared to be a hit-and-run accidentescalated into an incredible tale of mob violence, mayhem and murder. Two years after the incident, witnesses for the government said the mob savagely attacked Peltier then dropped him in the path of a moving vehicle, resulting in his instantaneous death. At the center of the investigation was the alleged driver of the vehicle, Richard LaFuente, who had come to the reservation that summer at the behest of his half-sister, Patricia DeMarce, to receive a percap, or distribution of money from the tribe to its members, that ultimately didn’t exist.

Richard LaFuente the day of his release from FCI Ft. Worth (photo by Hal Samples)

Two years later LaFuente was summoned to the sheriff’s office in his hometown of Plainview, Texas, for what he thought was an unpaid speeding ticket. Instead, he was arrested by federal marshals for the murder of Peltier – a man he had never met.In May of 1986, a jury convicted the mob of murdering Peltier, giving LaFuente the harshest sentence of all: life in prison. Numerous appeals followed as evidence of police and prosecutorial misconduct began to surface.

In 1994 prosecutors offered LaFuente a plea bargain: if he would admit guilt and show remorse for the crime, he would be released on time served. Steadfastly proclaiming innocence, LaFuente refused the offer. “I can’t and won’t show remorse for a crime I didn’t commit,” he told his lawyer, Jonathan Garaas, at the time.

In a 2006 article written by Michael Hall for Texas Monthly magazine, LaFuente’s attorney, Julie Jonas of the Innocence Project of Minnesota, said: “I don’t have another inmate who would do that. Someone who’s been in a federal prison and is given the key to the door and he won’t go – that’s indicative of innocence. And a real strength of character that very few possess.”

Jonas filed an Executive Clemency petition with the Obama Administration, and on June 5th, 2014, after 28 years of incarceration for someone else’s crime, Richard LaFuente was finally released from prison – without explanation. Though he was not granted clemency or exonerated of the crime, he is now a free man.

Behind the Scenes

Producer/Director Todd Trotter is a graduate of Southern Methodist University’s Cinema-Television program and is currently a producer on Talking Dead, the after show to AMC’s The Walking Dead. Mike Wiser, an award-winning writer-producer for the PBS series FRONTLINE, is providing advice and consultation on the project. Investigative journalist Michael Hall, who originally reported Richard LaFuente’s story for Texas Monthly magazine and most recently in The New York Timesis a key consultant along with Fargo Forum reporter Patrick Springer, who covered the 1986 murder trial – the largest in North Dakota’s history – from start to finish. Matt Daniel, a citizen investigator and former firefighter, has worked with Trotter on the case since 2011.