Trial begins for man accused of AIM activist's death

By Heidi Bell Gease Journal staff
Rapid City, South Dakota April 2010

Opening statements in the murder trial of Vine Richard "Dickie" Marshall outlined a defense case that claims American Indian Movement activists were looking for directions and a change of clothes, not a gun, when they knocked on Marshall's door with their prisoner, Annie Mae Aquash in December 1975.

Defense attorney Dana Hanna told jurors in opening statements Wednesday that those activists -- Arlo Looking Cloud, John Graham and Theda Clarke -- "didn't plan to kill (Annie Mae) at that time," so they weren't looking for a gun. "They didn't ask for a change of clothes so she could have clean clothes when they assassinated her a few hours later. They expected to keep her on the run or whatever."

Clarke initially asked the Marshalls to keep Aquash at their home, but they refused, Hanna said. The group then went to the Rosebud home of an AIM leader "to have somebody tell them what to do," he added

"Someone in that house said, ‘You need to murder that woman,'" Hanna said.

Federal prosecutors restated what they have long believed; that Aquash, then 30, was killed because some in AIM thought she was a government informant. But they maintain that Marshall provided the revolver and shells used to kill Aquash, whose body was found in February 1976 by a rancher just north of Wanblee.

Looking Cloud, who was convicted in 2004 of Aquash's murder, is expected to be the government's key witness in the case against Marshall.

But Hanna told jurors that Looking Cloud's story was a lie he invented to get out of federal prison, where is he serving a life sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Mandel laid out a different timetable for jurors in opening statements. He said Aquash was taken from Denver to the Wounded Knee Legal Defense Offense Committee house in Rapid City, where she was determined to be an informant after a "kangaroo court trial."

Mandel said they then went to Bill Means' house in Rosebud. "We're unclear on exactly who was present in there, frankly," Mandel said, but the group then went to Marshall's house in Allen before Aquash was killed. Means is the brother of AIM leader Russell Means.

Hanna said that for years, Looking Cloud told "friend and foe alike" that he and the others took Aquash from Rapid City directly to Rosebud.

"He has always said they went from Rosebud right to the (murder) scene," Hanna said. In fact, he said jurors would see a taped 2003 interview with Looking Cloud in which he is asked 10 times whether he remembers stopping at Marshall's house with Aquash, "and 10 times he said no."

"The story that he's telling now (about Marshall providing the gun) ... that's another new thing that came up just a year and a half ago," Hanna said. "It is that story that Arlo Looking Cloud told federal investigators for the first time on Aug. 19, 2008, that brought Richard Marshall and all of us together today in this courtroom."

While government officials have said Aquash was not an informant, the first government witness to testify Wednesday gave a clear picture of why some thought she was.

Pierre attorney Robert Riter was appointed to represent Aquash on federal firearms charges after she and others were arrested in September 1975 on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Her trial was scheduled for late November.

In early November, Riter wrote Aquash a letter informing her federal prosecutors had offered her a deal: Testify to all you know in this matter, and we will reduce your felony charge to a misdemeanor and recommend probation.

He didn't hear from her, he said. Weeks later, Aquash was arrested along with fellow AIM member Ka-Mook Banks after law enforcement officers stopped the motor home in which they were riding in Oregon.

AIM leader Dennis Banks -- who was then Ka-Mook Banks' husband -- and Leonard Peltier escaped arrest at the time. Ka-Mook Banks, who now goes by the name Darlene Ecoffey, testified during Arlo Looking Cloud's 2004 trial that while they were in the motor home, Peltier confessed to killing two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in June 1975. He was later convicted of the crime.

(A codefendant in Aquash's firearms case, Dino Butler, was also charged with killing the FBI agents but was acquitted.)

After her arrest in Oregon, Aquash was brought back to Pierre, where she was scheduled for trial on the firearms charges. Riter said legal committee attorneys asked if Aquash could be released on bond for the few days before the trial.

"I did not anticipate that a judge was going to allow her out, when she had just been brought back by federal marshals from Oregon, and where she had failed to appear at a hearing we had scheduled in early November," Riter said.

Riter said he believed the U.S. Attorney probably resisted their motion for release. However, "the judge let her out."

"Did you ever see her again after Nov. 24?" asked prosecutor Rod Oswald.

"After that day, no," Riter replied.

Riter also said attorney Bruce Ellison, then affiliated with the legal committee, was assisting him with research in the case.

Raymond Handboy testified that he and his then-wife, Evelyn Bordeaux drove Aquash from Pierre to Denver after she was released from jail.

A few weeks later, Angie Begay Janis, who was Graham's girlfriend at the time, was working in Boulder, Colo., when she received a phone call. She said she recognized the voice as Thelma Rios, a fellow AIM member in Rapid City.

Asked what Rios said, Janis replied, "I couldn't say exactly, but it was to the effect that Anna Mae, they wanted her back in Rapid City and that they felt she, I believe, was an informant." Janis said she passed that information on to Graham and Clarke.

Later that night, Graham, Clarke, Looking Cloud and others removed Aquash from the basement of a home in Denver where she was being held, Janis said. "She was tied up," Janis said, and they took her outside to Clarke's Ford Pinto station wagon and left.

Janis said Graham didn't have guns "that I knew of," and that she didn't see any guns at the house.

Graham returned a few days later, but Janis said she never asked him what happened.

"It was dangerous to know about things like that, wasn't it?" Hanna asked.
"Yes," she said.

A jury of seven men and seven women is hearing the case, which is scheduled to run through next week before U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol.

If convicted Marshall would face life in prison.


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