During the recent White House Tribal Nations Conference, Yankton Sioux Tribe chairman Thurmond Cournoyer hand-delivered a message to Charles Galbraith, Navajo, associate director of White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement. In the letter, Cournoyer asked the Obama administration to end a 17-year miscarriage of justice that resulted in the incarceration of four tribal members.
This is the second time the tribe has reached out to Washington. The first was an appeal to the Justice Department, which was rebuffed. “I believe the president will stand up for justice,” Cournoyer said.
In 1994, according to Cournoyer, 11 grade-school-age children were kidnapped from the reservation in a chaotic raid, isolated from their families, mistreated in foster care and aggressively prepared by the FBI — using anatomical drawings, group therapy in which they were encouraged to talk about sex, and other means — to testify that five of their uncles had abused them. One man was acquitted, and four others were each sentenced to as many as 33 years after a trial that an appeals-court judge and numerous experts — including forensic psychologist Hollida Wakefield; famed defense attorney Linda Baden; Johns Hopkins professor of child and adolescent psychiatry Maggie Bruck; and Robert Chatelle, head of the National Center for Reason and Justice — later said was based on the coerced testimony of young children and riddled with judicial error and racial prejudice.
During the trial, jury members laughed at jokes about American Indians and shared fantastic and lurid speculations on American Indian customs. The trial judge held a special hearing on the jury’s behavior, but found that since it had not occurred during the pre-trial period when the jury is chosen, it was acceptable. The appeals-court judge called the evidence of bias “a matter of grave concern.” The men were briefly granted the possibility of a new trial, which was then withdrawn at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The four convicted men — Jesse Rouse, Desmond Rouse, Garfield Feather, and Russell Hubbeling — and the child-witnesses, now adults, who recanted shortly after the trial, maintain the men’s innocence. “This, in my long career, is one of the top injustices,” said Wakefield.
“These men should be exonerated and released immediately,” Cournoyer said, adding that the civil-rights violations against the children should be investigated as well.