I’ve written many criminal justice stories for Texas Monthly over the past thirteen years, and many of those involved inmates who claimed they were innocent. Some, I’m pretty sure, were guilty; others, I became convinced, were not. Almost all of the deserving ones eventually got justice. Only one of them has never received his due. His name is Richard LaFuente and he was wrongly convicted of being part of the murder of a policeman on a North Dakota Indian reservation 29 years ago. He was convicted along with ten others and sent to federal prison, but every one of the others was freed long ago. Only LaFuente remains—and all because he won’t confess to a murder he had nothing to do with. All because he won’t show false remorse for something he didn’t do.
I’ve written about him twice; the first story, in October 2006, laid out the bizarre, hard-to-believe case against him. It’s a complicated story, but the short version is this: In the summer of 1983, LaFuente, then just 25 years old, went with his brother-in-law, John Perez, to visit some relatives on the Devils Lake Sioux reservation (now the Spirit Lake Nation), in North Dakota (LaFuente is half Sioux, half Mexican-American). While they were there, on August 28, a former policeman named Eddie Peltier was found dead on a rural highway, the apparent victim of a hit-and-run.
Two and a half years later LaFuente was arrested for Peltier’s murder. Witnesses at the rez said that on August 28 there had been a big party that led to a big fight. Four witnesses said they had seen a mob of men beat Peltier, while one said she had seen LaFuente, with assistance from Perez, run Peltier over in