AIM slaying prosecutors want evidence safeguards

By Carson Walker
Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) 10-09

Secret grand jury records have been posted on the Internet, confidential witness names have been revealed and witnesses have received unwanted visits from defense representatives, prosecutors handling the 1975 slaying of an American Indian activist wrote in a court filing.

Because of that, a state judge in the Annie Mae Aquash case should put limits in place before evidence is turned over to defense lawyers so it can’t be misused, they argued.

John Graham, of Canada’s Yukon territory, and Thelma Rios, of Rapid City, are charged in state court with taking part in the kidnapping and killing of Aquash, a fellow American Indian Movement member from Nova Scotia.

Prosecutors have said AIM leaders suspected Aquash was a government informant. Her body was found on the Pine Ridge reservation with a gunshot to the head.

Graham also is charged in federal court but his trial with co-defendant Richard Marshall was delayed so federal prosecutors could ask for a rehearing before the full 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on the dismissal of one of the three counts against Graham.

A three-judge panel concluded that the U.S. government lacked jurisdiction to try Graham because neither he nor Aquash are American Indian. The federal government has jurisdiction over American Indian-related crimes.

The request for a rehearing was filed during late September.

In response to the state indictment of Graham, his lawyer asked a judge to order prosecutors to reveal the names of witnesses who testified before the Pennington County grand jury that indicted Graham and Rios on Sept. 10.

Attorney General Marty Jackley and Assistant Attorney General Rod Oswald wrote in a response filed  recently that they’ll comply, but only with assurances that the defense won’t make public what is intended to be confidential, which has happened in the past.

In a Sept. 11 motion, defense lawyer John Murphy argued that because Graham has not been arraigned in state court, he doesn’t have access to grand jury transcripts to see what evidence led to the new indictment. The version of the document he received had the witness names blacked out.

“Mr. Graham’s desire to obtain the state court grand jury transcripts is not a `fishing trip’ that will lead to the disclosure of irrelevant or tangential materials,” Murphy wrote.

Jackley and Oswald said they’re not trying to hide anything from the defense and the names on the indictment will be revealed when Graham is arraigned.

The prosecutors wrote that they want to protect witnesses because of incidents in which confidential sources have been identified and contacted and their credibility attacked, though they’re not singling out any lawyer or implying that Graham was responsible.

The state said it will turn over evidence after a state judge approves safeguards such as prohibiting the copying of discovery materials, limiting access to defendants and their defense team, and prohibiting the public display of grand jury material.

Jackley and Murphy declined to comment beyond the court documents.

AIM was founded in the late 1960s to protest the U.S. government’s treatment of Indians and to demand that the government honor its treaties with tribes. The group took over the village of Wounded Knee in 1973, leading to a 71-day standoff with federal agents that included the exchange of gunfire.