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James R. Weddell is free!

The 18 decembre 2003, at 11.00. For details click here.


Who's James R. Weddell?


James R. Weddell, "Wanbli Ista" ("Eagle Eye" in Lakota language), is a Sioux-Dakota Indian from the Yankton reservation, in South Dakota. He was born on 24 December 1955. Since 1986, he had been incarcerated, sentenced to 80 years in prison for manslaughter in first degree. Judge by yourself.

The evening of 28 February, 1986, an all-white gang known as The Gregers and known to abuse Indians since 50 years, he saw was beating a young Indian boy, Enos Weston. The beating, under the lead of Randy Caldwell, had been going on for the all day.
The police had been advised more than once, but the officer who got the report, Tom Hardly, decided it was not serious enough to take action, so he went instead to a retirement dinner. Tom Hardly is first cousin with several of the Gregers, it must be noticed. Loren Archeambau, the B.I.A. cop on the Yankton reservation, could not do anything because the tribal police can handle only crimes committed by Indians against Indians.

James Weddell, Micky and Larry Honomichl, and Jerry Costello got out of their car and decided to help Enos Westoon. James tried to take the police bat which randy Caldwell was using from his hands, then saw Troy Greger to run toward the pickup where, he knew, Troy kept his rifle. While James was running after Troy Greger, he saw Caldwell hitting again Weston and he saw other people with other clubs around him. Then he saw randy Caldwell to fall on the ground. A Greger girl, sister to Troy, passed James and ran toward her brother.

Randy Caldwell died for being struck to his left jaw with a metal object. James was charged with that crime, together with Micky Honomichl (most likely the one who struck the lethal blow), despite being far away from the scene at the moment the accidental death occurred. The jury at trial was an all-white jury, disrespecting the law that establishes that 15% should be of the same ethnicity of the persons allegedly charged for the crime. And, even a relative of the victim was allowed to serve on that jury!
The girl who passed James while running toward Troy Greger testified instead that she saw James striking Randy Caldwell four times! The appointed attorney, since James had no money to hire a good attorney on his own, did not even call most of the witnesses who offered to testify in James' defense.

After none months spent in the Sioux Falls penitentiary and with the dark perspective of other 79 years to spend in prison for a crime he did not commit, James decided to escape. Two years later, however, he got caught, adding another 15 years sentence for escape to the previous one.

Since that moment, prison life became even worse for James. First, he was sent to Marion, a maximum security federal penitentiary, and when he was finally transferred back to South Dakota, retaliation against his escape came in many ways, including scary attempts to his life.
In 1993, James met Gloria Mattioni (with him in the picture above), an Italian journalist who started to investigate his case. Gloria was able to raise some financial support through the publication of a book, Dakota Warrior, in 1995, which will se three reprints in the next two years. The royalties from the book, together with the donations of several European supporters, allowed to hire a good attorney, Terry Pechota from Rapid City, in order to reopen the legal proceedings.

After 8 years from the beginning of the habeas corpus based on new evidences, judge Piersol, South Dakota representative of the Federal Supreme Court, grants the writ on 29 September, 2003. He states that James must be retried or released, within sixty days, recognizing that he did not have a fair trial on the basis of two of the five issues raised by Terry Pechota (ineffectiveness of counsel and the missing Indian representation on the jury panel).
After the decision, the state appeals and affirms his intention to go for a new trial. However, after sending an investigator to the Yankton reservation and discovering that most of the prosecution witnesses are now in prison for drug dealing, the state decides to accept Terry Pechota's offer to solve the matter off court., avoiding the huge expenses of a new trial.

So, on 18 December, 2003, a new hearing is held in Armour, on the Yankton reservation. Larry Long, the state attorney, comes in person and, at the presence of many family members, James is finally freed on probation after the court accepts his plea, as for as agreed with the state. James admits to participate in the fight and he's charged with the lesser offense of assault against randy Caldwell and Troy Greger, but he's relieved by the responsibility in the death of Caldwell. In the end, he is set free with 7 years sentence remaining suspended on probation.

James needs to start his new life from scratch. He's trying to find a job, but it is not easy after such a long time in prison and at 48 years of age. He cannot go out of South Dakota (not at his daughter, in Minnesota, because that state does not accept exchange of prisoners, not even on probation) but he cannot reside in Charles Mix County, where he's from, and where most of the people he knows live.

Gloria Mattioni thanks everybody who helped her to conquer James' freedom and invites everybody to spread around the news of his liberation, and to update the webpages distributed all over the world.

James also thanks you.