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Texas man convicted in 1983 ND murder released

  • Article by: KEVIN BURBACH
  • Associated Press
  • June 5, 2014 - 8:35 PM

BISMARCK, N.D. — A Texas man who maintained his innocence for 28 years while in federal prison for the murder of a North Dakota man was released Thursday with the help of a nonprofit legal counsel group.

Richard LaFuente, who was convicted in the 1983 death of Edward Peltier of Devils Lake, North Dakota, had been in prison in Fort Worth, Texas, since 1986.

After being denied parole for the fourth time last July, the Minnesota Innocence Project, which has been working to prove LaFuente's innocence since 2004, again appealed on his behalf. The U.S. Parole Commission reversed its decision and granted his release.

LaFuente's conviction has not been overturned, but the legal group said Thursday it will continue to try to prove his innocence.

"We are thrilled that Richard is no longer in prison, but there is still much work to be done to overturn his conviction," said Julie Jonas, the managing attorney for the Minnesota Innocence Project, in a news release. "We have been working on his case for 10 years because we truly believe he is innocent, and we will continue to fight to prove it."

On August 28, 1983, Peltier was found dead on Highway 57 near Ski Jump Road on the Devils Lake Indian Reservation. An autopsy revealed that Peltier had died as a result of being run over by a car, but according to court documents, authorities suspected foul play.

The documents said Peltier had attended a party where he was involved in several fights. The fights allegedly escalated to the point where Peltier was chased to the nearby highway and beaten by a group of men, who left him lying there. The documents say LaFuente ran over him.

LaFuente had been visiting his half-sister in Devils Lake since early August, Jonas said.

In 1986, after several witnesses came forward and said Peltier had died as a result of mob violence, LaFluente and 10 others were convicted, but nine of those convictions were soon overturned, with only LaFuente and his brother-in-law John Perez remaining in prison. LaFuente was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, according to court documents. Perez was sentenced to second-degree murder.

LaFuente and Perez have continued to claim their innocence and have said they were nowhere near the scene of Peltier's death. Perez was released after serving his 20-year sentence.

In 1994, according to the organization, LaFuente and his brother-in-law were offered a deal after more details of the case came to light. They would be released on the condition they plead guilty; both refused, maintaining their innocence.

The group said Thursday in a news release that LaFuente became eligible for parole in 1997, but was denied after he refused to show remorse. LaFuente spent an additional 17 years in prison.

The organization said it had filed two clemency petitions and three appeals of his parole denials before he was eventually released Thursday.

Jonas, who met LaFuente with his family Thursday morning when he left prison and took him out to breakfast, said she never doubted his innocence.

"He's a man to be admired," Jonas said in a phone interview Thursday. "I don't know anybody who has stuck by their principles like this for so long. I really don't. It's why I've always believed in him."

© 2014 Star Tribune