Prosecution rests in 1975 AIM slaying trial

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

The prosecution rested its case on December 7th in the trial of a Canadian man accused of shooting an American Indian Movement activist in late 1975 and leaving her to die, after two federal agents testified that the suspect became nervous while discussing the crime.

John Graham is charged with shooting Annie Mae Aquash and leaving the Canadian woman to die on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation in a case that has become synonymous with AIM’s often-violent clashes with federal agents during the 1970s.

Prosecution witnesses testified over five days that Graham and two other AIM activists, Arlo Looking Cloud and Theda Clark, kidnapped and killed Aquash because they believed she was a government informant. Looking Cloud, who is serving a life sentence for his role in Aquash’s death, told jurors that he saw Graham shoot her.

After two agents testified, lead prosecutor Marty Jackley said he had finished presenting his case.

Murphy has accused Looking Cloud of changing his story in hopes of having his sentence reduced and pointed out differences between his testimony and earlier statements made to investigators.

Former U.S. Marshal Robert Ecoffey and Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent Mitch Pourier testified Tuesday that they met with Graham in April 1994 in the western Canada town of Whitehorse, where Graham lived at the time. The agents said Graham told them he drove Aquash from Denver to a “safe house” in South Dakota, but he denied killing her.

Ecoffey said he and Pourier approached Graham one afternoon at work. When Ecoffey introduced himself and told Graham why he wanted to talk, Graham allegedly replied, “How did you find out about me?”

“He got real nervous,” Ecoffey said and added that Graham’s hand quivered as he held a cigarette.

That night, the three met at a Whitehorse park. They sat at a picnic table as Ecoffey began to discuss what he knew about the case, he testified. Graham allegedly said, “Well, look like you guys have my future planned out for me. You have your case.”

Pourier said Graham denied shooting Aquash but began shaking so violently that their picnic table “was actually moving.” And both agents testified that Graham later said, “I’m ready to leave this place. I’ll probably spend the rest of my life in jail.”

Murphy suggested Graham’s reactions stemmed from fear and he questioned why the agents didn’t record the conversation. “Had you guys done that, we might actually know what (Graham) said,” Murphy said.

Pourier said he was confident the interview report filed by the agents was accurate.

looking_cloud.jpgLooking Cloud took the stand and reiterated that he stood nearby as Graham shot Aquash.

Murphy contended Looking Cloud had changed his story in hopes of getting a more lenient prison sentence. He pointed to Looking Cloud’s criminal record, which includes several convictions for lying to authorities, and differences between his current testimony and past statements.

Prosecutors did not call a number of expected witnesses, but they can still do so after the defense rests. Potential witnesses who didn’t testify include Serle Chapman, a British writer who interviewed Graham and later cooperated with the FBI, and Thelma Rios, who pleaded guilty last month in connection with Aquash’s kidnapping.

Aquash, a member of the Mi’kmaq tribe of Nova Scotia, was 30 when she died. Her death came about two years after she participated in AIM’s 71-day occupation of the South Dakota reservation town of Wounded Knee.

AIM was founded in the late 1960s to protest the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans and demand the government honor its treaties with 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, a 55-year-old Southern Tutchone Indian from Canada, faces first- and second-degree murder charges and could receive life in prison if convicted.

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