Witness: Slain AIM activist feared for her life

By Nomaan Merchant
Rapid City, South Dakota (AP) December 2010

Before she died, an American Indian Movement activist said she was afraid she'd be killed because others in the group suspected she was an informant, witnesses testified last week during the trial of a man accused of shooting her.

John Graham, 55, is accused of shooting Annie Mae Aquash and leaving her to die on South Dakota's Pine Ridge reservation, in an incident that has become synonymous with AIM and its 1970s-era battles with federal agents. He is charged with first- and second-degree murder and could go to prison for life if convicted.

Prosecutors say Aquash was kidnapped from Denver by three AIM supporters and eventually taken to Pine Ridge because the group's leaders thought she was a government spy.

One prosecution witness, Angie Janis, said she received a phone call from another AIM supporter, Thelma Rios, about Aquash in November 1975. Janis testified she was told "something to the effect that Annie Mae needed to be brought back to Rapid City. She was an informant."

Janis, who said she was Graham's girlfriend at the time, testified that she passed along the message, but doesn't remember who she told.

The same day, a group of people gathered at the Denver home of Troy Lynn Yellow Wood, where Aquash was staying, Janis said. Among those present were Graham, Arlo Looking Cloud and Theda Clark, she said. Janis said the three took Aquash from the home with her hands tied.

Janis appeared uncomfortable answering defense attorney John Murphy's questions during cross-examination. Murphy brought up conflicting statements Janis made to law enforcement officials and in other court proceedings. Murphy said Janis had said previously that Aquash may have been tied to a board or that she couldn't remember if Looking Cloud had been present.

She replied several times, "I don't recall."

Yellow Wood testified last week that on the day the AIM members showed up at her home, Aquash told her she was afraid they thought she was an informant.

"'If they take me from here, you will never see me alive again,"' Aquash said, according to Yellow Wood.

Under cross examination, Murphy suggested Yellow Woods testimony was inconsistent with statements about the case that she previously made.

Aquash, a member of the Mi'kmaq tribe of Nova Scotia, was 30 when she died. Her death came about six months after two FBI agents were gunned down in a shootout with AIM members, and two years after she participated in AIM's 71-day occupation of the South Dakota reservation town of Wounded Knee.

South Dakota Judge John Delaney barred any mention to jurors of a key sentence in the first autopsy report for Aquash that suggests she may have had sex shortly before her death. Prosecutors have alleged Graham raped Aquash during her kidnapping, but there are no sex-related charges against Graham.

AIM was founded in the late 1960s to protest the U.S. government's treatment of Indians and demand the government honor its treaties with Indian tribes. It gained national attention in 1972 when it took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington, but has since faded from public view.

Graham was first indicted in 2003, and extradited to South Dakota four years later to face federal murder charges. But after federal courts ruled that U.S. prosecutors didn't have authority to prosecute Graham, he was indicted in state court.

To learn more checkout: Facebook.com/AnnieMaePictouAquash