Witness in 1975 AIM slaying trial recalls a fractured AIM, Peltier admission

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

Federal prosecutors tried to lead jurors through a swirling cloud of rumors April 19 to draw a line from Vine Richard “Dickie” Marshall to the murder of Annie Mae Aquash.

Marshall, 59, is accused of providing the gun used to kill fellow American Indian Movement activist Annie Mae Aquash in December 1975. Witnesses have testified that there were rumors Aquash was a government informant, which is why prosecutors say AIM leaders had her killed.

Serle Chapman, a British writer who now lives in Wyoming, told jurors he was doing research for a book about AIM when he interviewed Marshall in 2000. Chapman contacted Marshall again the following year and asked him about a rumor that he had provided the gun used to kill Aquash.

“Did he respond to that?” asked prosecutor Rod Oswald.

“He just kind of said, ‘Well, back in the day, somebody asked you to do something … you didn’t ask too many questions,’” Chapman replied.

Defense attorney Dana Hanna asked U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol to strike Chapman’s testimony, saying, “Now the jury believes from the witness that there was a rumor going around.”

Piersol denied the request, saying the question was “reasonably direct.”

Marshall’s former wife, Cleo Gates, testified last week that the couple had unexpected visitors at their home in Allen on the night Aquash was killed. She said Arlo Looking Cloud, John Graham and Theda Clarke came to their door with Aquash and asked the Marshalls to keep her there.

She said they declined and the group left.

Much of Monday’s testimony had more to do with AIM and rumors about Aquash than it did with Marshall’s alleged role in the killing.

Darlene “Ka-Mook” Ecoffey, formerly known as Ka-Mook Banks, longtime partner of AIM founder Dennis Banks, said the rumors were circulating on the heels of news that Doug Durham -- once a close associate of Banks -- was an informant for the FBI.

“I think (AIM leaders) were becoming quite paranoid,” she said.

Ecoffey told how she, her sister Bernie, Banks, Leonard Peltier and Aquash drove to Washington State in a motor home owned by Marlon Brando in November 1975, soon after Banks had failed to appear for sentencing on charges related to the 1973 Custer courthouse riot.

“Did Leonard Peltier talk about things that were incriminating?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Mandel asked Ecoffey.

She said yes, that Peltier, had talked about the fatal shootings of two FBI agents in Oglala on June 26, 1975.

“He said the (expletive) was begging for his life but I shot him anyway,” she said. Peltier was later convicted of murdering the agents and is still incarcerated.


According to Ecoffey’s testimony, she heard about Aquash’s death on Feb. 24, 1976, when Dennis (Banks) called her from California. “He called and he said they found a body, and it was Annie Mae,” she said.

Ecoffey said she had suspicions about Aquash’s death, partly because of the rumors and partly because of what Peltier had said in front of Aquash.

“I believed it was somebody from the American Indian Movement,” she said. “I wasn’t absolutely sure who.”

As Hanna brought out in cross-examination, AIM was not a unified group. Ecoffey agreed that each AIM leader has his own followers and that the different factions within AIM did not always get along.

“They all wanted to be the boss, and there were frequently tensions among them?” Hanna asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

Ecoffey said she “had heard” that Clarke once transported dynamite at the request of Dennis Banks. Graham, whom Clarke sometimes introduced as her nephew, was often with Clarke.

Ecoffey said that in 2000 she began her own investigation into what had happened to Aquash. It wasn’t until later that she became a cooperating witness for the government, providing them with information.

That information included a secretly recorded six-hour conversation with Looking Cloud, who was convicted in 2004 of Aquash’s murder and is serving life in prison. Looking Cloud does not mention Marshall.

Ecoffey and Chapman eventually worked together somewhat on the investigation. Chapman said that initially he was very reluctant to cooperate, telling federal authorities that first he wanted to see a crime scene photo and an autopsy photo.

When asked why, Chapman said, “I was a disciple of Bruce Ellison’s pretty much.”

He said Ellison -- a local attorney who was affiliated with the Wounded Knee legal committee -- and others in AIM had told him that anyone who knew Aquash would have been able to identify her remains, suggesting that the government was trying to hide its own involvement in her death by cutting off her hands.

(In fact, a former FBI agent testified that, at that time, it was standard procedure to sever the hands on a decomposed body and send them to the national FBI laboratory for fingerprint identification.)

“I’m getting to the point here in this process whereby things have kind of started to fall apart a little bit in terms of what I believe and what it is that people have told me,” Chapman said. “I’m not so totally dumb that I can’t see when somebody’s using me.”

He said the fact that Ecoffey was unable to recognize Aquash’s remains from the photos helped steer him toward cooperating with the government.

“Then I knew that for a few years I’d been led down this path, and that a lot of what had been sold to me was spin,” Chapman said.

Ecoffey told jurors she was not paid for her work although the government did reimburse her for expenses and paid to move her twice because of safety concerns. In one instance, Ecoffey said that her daughter -- who didn’t know she was working with the government -- had her father, Dennis Banks, bring her home. The FBI then told Ecoffey she needed to move again, which she did.

Ecoffey said she did not benefit financially from either move. She also acknowledged that she and Bob Ecoffey, a former U.S. Marshal and Bureau of Indian Affairs investigator who is now BIA superintendent for the Pine Ridge Agency, became involved after Looking Cloud’s 2004 trial and are now married. She said that did not affect her testimony.

Bob Ecoffey testified as well, describing his work on the investigation since 1994. He said Marshall told him he remembered the group stopping at his home in Allen but that he didn’t remember anything about a note.

Bob Ecoffey also said Looking Cloud never told him about stopping in Allen.

Earlier on Monday Looking Cloud’s attorney, Barry Bachrach, testified that the government made no specific promises when Looking Cloud came forward in 2008 to tell authorities Marshall had provided the murder weapon.

Bachrach said then-U.S. Attorney Marty Jackley, who currently is South Dakota’s attorney general, had agreed that if Looking Cloud testified truthfully, the government would provide a statement regarding his cooperation that could be used to seek a reduction of Looking Cloud’s sentence. The government could also make a statement when Looking Cloud is eligible for parole, which could be as early as 2013.

Asked if the government specified what they wanted Looking Cloud to say, Bachrach responded, “Not at all.”

One woman was excused from the jury April 19 due to illness, leaving five women and eight men to decide the case. The trial is expected to continue through the week.

If convicted Marshall would face life in prison.

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