150 Years after His Execution,
Justice for an Indian Chief
A special Historical Court in Tacoma, Washington, has exonerated a prominent Nisqually Indian chief in a unanimous decision that came a century and a half after he was hanged for the murder of a U.S. soldier. The descendents of Chief Leschi have long mourned the execution, calling it a miscarriage of justice. The soldier was shot in 1855 during the era of the so-called "Indian Wars" in what are now the states of Washington and Oregon.
Washington's first-ever Historical Court of Inquiry and Justice into session at the State History Museum. On the bench were seven judges in black robes. Before them were a panel of attorneys and an audience of nearly 200 -- mostly tribal representatives from across the state, some in colorful shawls and traditional beaded headdresses. In opening statement, lead defense counsel and Nisqually Tribal Attorney Bill Tobin said this was a case about riding a historical round.
Bill Tobin: Leschi is not here to enjoy the fruits of the acquittal he deserved, but the court can take a step toward providing justice, by entering a judgment of exoneration and removing the burden of guilt from Leschi's name.
On the stand, Nisqually tribal member and prominent Northwest Indian leader Bill Frank Junior spoke passionately about why clearing Chief Leschi's name remained so important.
Bill Frank Junior: We teach our young people about this hanging and it's not a very good story. So we could tell the truth about this hanging and get to our young people and tell them the truth is now being told after 150 years, then we'll have a new beginning.
In the mid1850s, Chief Leschi was tried and convicted of shooting to death territorial militia member A.B. Moses. It’s the state's first recorded murder. He is sentenced death by hanging. Questions linger as to whether Chief Leschi was even at the scene of the shooting. But that was not the argument in court on the state. The chief's modern-day defenders say, even if he did pull the trigger, he never should have been charged with murder because the killing occurred during a time of war.
Not so, responded lead prosecutor Carl Hultman of the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney's office, suggesting that it was the shooting itself that started the Indian War.
Carl Hultman: The war began after the A.B. Moses killing, that's the beginning of the war. I don't think you could come in and have done whatever sets off the war and then claim that I did it at a time of war, perhaps.
During the four-hour trial, Chief Leschi was described as someone who simply wanted to stop the relocation of his people from the banks of the Nisqually River to the prairie. Historical experts suggested that he was the victim of discriminatory justice by hands of an all-white jury. In closing arguments for the defense, John Ladenburg, a former prosecutor, said the trial was about "the future, not the past…about humanity, not history."
John Ladenburg: This case is a rare opportunity for the people of Washington, both Indian and non-Indian, to come together to heal old wounds and create a road towards understanding and respect.
After a short deliberation, the court returned its verdict. The death of A.B. Moses happened during a time of war announced Gary Alexander, Chief Justice of the Washington State Supreme Court.
Jennifer Mansfield, a direct descendent of Chief Leschi, said she was relieved.
Jennifer Mansfield: It's like the injustice is finally done, it's over, everything's clear, his name's good. We can start a new beginning.
The exoneration does not have the force of law. But members of the Nisqually tribe say the new verdict will allow them to correct their history…and that is what matters.
For VOA news now I’m Austin Jenkins in Tacoma, Washington.
robe [rEub] n. 长袍，罩衣
attorney [E5tE:ni] n. <美>律师
shawl [FC:l] n. 披肩，围巾
beaded [5bi:did] adj. 饰以珠的
headdress [5heddres] n. 头巾，头饰
acquittal [E5kwit(E)l] n. 宣判无罪
exoneration [i^5zCnEreiFE n] n. 免罪，免除
prosecutor [5prRsikju:tE(r)] n. 原告，起诉人
deliberation [di7libE5reiFE n] n. 商议
verdict [5vE:dikt] n.（陪审团的）裁决，判决