Defense rests quickly in reservation slaying trial

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

The defense for the man accused of shooting an American Indian Movement activist more than three decades ago rested its case on December 8th without calling any witnesses.

John Graham is charged with shooting Annie Mae Aquash and leaving her to die on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation in late 1975. The case has become synonymous with AIM’s often-violent clashes with federal agents during the 1970s.

After the prosecution rested its case, Graham’s attorney, John Murphy, was expected to begin calling witnesses. But Murphy announced that the defense rested. He declined to comment when asked outside the courtroom why he didn’t call any witnesses.

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 this week that he saw Graham shoot her.

Murphy then asked Judge John Delaney to dismiss the charges, arguing that prosecutors hadn’t proven enough of their case beyond Looking Cloud’s statements.

“They have failed as a matter of law to corroborate Mr. Looking Cloud’s testimony,” Murphy said. “It is a situation that rises and falls on Arlo Looking Cloud.”

Delaney disagreed and denied the motion. Murphy asked again for a dismissal after resting his case, but Delaney said he would not change his ruling.

Throughout the prosecution’s case, Murphy questioned the reliability of several witnesses, particularly Looking Cloud, the only witness who said he saw Graham shoot 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, including 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.

anniemae_pictou.jpgAquash, 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 American 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.

Link to the Aquash Investigation Index Page

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