Man gets life in prison for 1975 AIM slaying

By Nomaan Merchant
Rapid City, South Dakota (AP) January 2011

  John Graham
A man convicted in the 1975 slaying of an American Indian Movement activist will serve life in prison, a judge decided Jan. 24, closing a major chapter in an investigation that’s taken more than three decades.

Prosecutors aren’t saying if other chapters are to come.

A South Dakota jury convicted John Graham of felony murder for participating in a kidnapping that ended in Annie Mae Aquash’s death. State law from the time of the incident requires sentence of life without parole, state Attorney General Marty Jackley said. The jury found Graham not guilty of premeditated murder.

Graham appeared before Judge John Delaney last week to receive his sentence.

Graham is the second person to be convicted in Aquash’s death, which remains synonymous with the often violent clashes of the 1970s between AIM activists and federal agents.

What still isn’t known, and may never be, are the circumstances behind Aquash’s killing. Authorities believe AIM leaders ordered her death because they thought she was helping the government, which officials have denied.

Prosecutors continue to discuss the case, but Jackley has refused to comment on whether others will be charged.

“I think it’s fair to state that the Annie Mae Aquash investigation remains an open investigation,” he said last week.

No AIM leader has ever been charged in her slaying, and several people involved with AIM have denied their own involvement.

 Arlo Looking Cloud
During five days of testimony last month, witnesses said they saw Graham and two other AIM activists take Aquash from a house in Denver and eventually to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Arlo Looking Cloud, who was convicted in Aquash’s slaying in 2004, testified that he watched Graham shoot Aquash with a .32-caliber pistol.

For now, Graham, a 55-year-old Southern Tutchone Indian from Canada, joins Looking Cloud as the two people convicted in Aquash’s death. Clark has never been charged and refused to testify at Graham’s trial, invoking her constitutional right not to incriminate herself.

 Richard Marshall
Another man, Richard Marshall, was acquitted earlier last year on murder charges. Prosecutors had accused Marshall of providing the pistol used to kill Aquash.

Graham’s attorney, John Murphy of Rapid City, has said he will appeal the conviction.

Denise Maloney Pictou, Aquash’s elder daughter, said recently that she thought others with information had not yet come forward. “I want to know who made that call,” she said. “They obviously are the people that started this ball rolling.”

Aquash was active in AIM, a group started 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. The movement grabbed national headlines with its 1972 takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington and, during the following year, its 71-day occupation of the reservation town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

 Annie Mae Pictou Aquash
By late 1975, Aquash had started to fear for her life due to the rumors, witnesses said. One prosecution witness, Troy Lynn Yellow Wood, testified that AIM members showed up at her Denver home where Aquash was staying in November of that year. Yellow Wood said Aquash told her she was afraid the activists thought she was an informant.

“‘If they take me from here, you will never see me alive again,”’ Yellow Wood said Aquash told her.

Another witness, Angie Janis, testified about receiving a phone call about Aquash that same month from AIM supporter Thelma Rios. Janis, who said she was Graham’s girlfriend at the time, testified that she was told “something to the effect that Annie Mae needed to be brought back to Rapid City. She was an informant.”

Prosecutors have not revealed who told Rios to call Janis. Rios pleaded guilty last November in connection with Aquash’s kidnapping, but did not testify at Graham’s trial. Jackley later said her exclusion “wasn’t an oversight.”

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