Did our justice system convict 11 innocent American Indians for the murder of a former policeman?
In 1986, an unlikely group of American Indians were tried together and convicted of the brutal murder of a former policeman on the Devils Lake Sioux Reservation, 80 miles south of the Canadian border. Not one shred of physical evidence tied any of the defendants to the crime. All were eventually released from prison except for one: Richard La Fuente, a mixed-race Latino from Texas. Closer examination of the facts suggests that race and police misconduct swayed the mostly white jury - and may explain why La Fuente remains behind bars to this day. Our mission is to reinvestigate the case on film and uncover the truth.
In the predawn hours of August 28, 1983, the battered body of Jerome Eddie Peltier was found on a highway near Fort Totten, North Dakota. What at first appeared to be a hit-and-run accident escalated into an incredible tale of mob violence, mayhem and murder. The mob, eyewitnesses alleged, savagely attacked Peltier and then dropped him in the path of a moving vehicle, resulting in his instantaneous death. At the center of the federal investigation was La Fuente, the alleged driver of the vehicle, who had come to the reservation that summer to receive a percap, or distribution of money from the tribe to its members. But the percap didn't exist, so he returned home.
Two years later he 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 for the murder of Peltier – a man he claimed he'd never met. In May of 1986, a jury with not one American Indian on it convicted the mob of murdering Peltier, giving La Fuente the harshest sentence of all - life in prison. Numerous appeals followed as eyewitnesses recanted and startling allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct began to surface.
In 1994 prosecutors offered La Fuente a plea bargain, ostensibly as political cover for a wobbly case - if he would admit guilt and show remorse for the crime, he would be released on time served. Proclaiming innocence, La Fuente refused the offer. "Let those prosecutors take that plea bargain and stick it where the sun don't shine," he told his lawyer at the time. "I can't show remorse and I won't show remorse. I won't ask for forgiveness for a crime I didn't do." He remains behind bars.
In a 2006 article written by Michael Hall for Texas Monthly magazine, La Fuente'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."
The question remains: Did our justice system convict 11 innocent American Indians for the murder of a former policeman?
This film will answer that question. And we need your help to tell the story.
Behind the Scenes
Todd Trotter got his start in feature film production (Robocop, Throw Momma From The Train, The Great Outdoors), and has written, produced and supervised post-production on scripted, unscripted and documentary television series. He is a member of the Writers Guild of America, Producers Guild of America, and the International Documentary Association. INCIDENT AT DEVILS LAKE is his directorial debut. Emmy-nominated editor Todd Muscat, who is also a former Geffen recording artist, has edited over 250 hours of scripted and unscripted television series and commercials. Fargo Forum reporter Patrick Springer, who covered the trial from start to finish, as well as the appeals, is a key consultant on the project. Award-winning investigative journalist Michael Hall, who reported Richard La Fuente's story for Texas Monthly magazine and most recently The New York Times, interviewed many of the primary participants in the case and is also a key consultant. Mike Wiser, an award-winning filmmaker who has written and produced for the PBS series FRONTLINE, has been providing advice and consultation on the project.
Our Current Progress
We've spent hundreds of hours meticulously researching the original police and FBI investigation of the incident, jury trial and post-conviction process. As part of this research, numerous telephone pre-interviews were conducted with La Fuente, his co-defendants and their attorneys, as well as witnesses, law enforcement personnel, and prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office. Virtually everyone involved in the case, from the prosecution to the defense, has been cooperative and wants to tell their side of the story. To explore our research, please visit http://www.IncidentAtDevilsLakeMovie.com, which features actual evidence, court documents and photographs from the case.
Plan of Action - Phase One
The purpose of this phase of the fundraising campaign is to raise seed money to shoot primary source interviews with key participants involved in the case. Because the interview subjects reside in North Dakota, Minnesota, Texas and Arizona, we will have to travel to those locations with a small production crew. When the interviews are shot, we'll return to Los Angeles, begin the editorial process and continue our fundraising efforts to ensure we meet our projected completion date of Q4 2013.
INCIDENT AT DEVILS LAKE is not a commercial venture; it is a passion project fueled by my belief that Richard La Fuente, and his co-defendants, were wrongly convicted. Moreover, it is our hope the film will serve as a catalyst for justice and provide closure to the hundreds of people the case has affected.
There are many ways to be a part of this community-funded effort to fight injustice and participate in the making of this film. Certainly we need your contributions to back the project, but equally important we need you to spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, and, of course, the water cooler.
Thank you for your time, interest and philanthropy.
-Todd Trotter, September 2012
Follow our progress and help spread the word:
READ OUR MEDIA COVERAGE:
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If our goal isn't met by the deadline, no money changes hands. Your pledge will only be counted if we get fully funded.
Absolutely! We can keep raising money until our deadline. We need to surpass our goal - and to ensure that we do, we will be fundraising vigorously throughout the entire filmmaking process.
Yes. Please stay tuned.
pledged of $50,000 goal
seconds to go
Funding Unsuccessful This project reached the deadline without achieving its funding goal on November 14, 2012.
Sep 15, 2012 - Nov 14, 2012 (60 days)
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