Judge allows evidence in AIM slaying trial of Peltier confession to shooting FBI agents

By Dave Kolpack
Rapid City, South Dakota (AP) August 2010

A judge says an alleged murder confession and threat by American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier should be introduced as evidence in a decades-old South Dakota murder case, but won’t allow a note that prosecutors described as an execution order.

John Graham and Thelma Rios are scheduled for trial in state court later this year on charges they participated in the killing of fellow AIM member Annie Mae Aquash on the Pine Ridge reservation in 1975. Prosecutors believe AIM leaders ordered the 30-year-old Aquash killed because they thought she was a government informant.

Graham faces one count each of felony murder in relation to kidnapping, felony murder in relation to rape, and premeditated murder. Rios is charged with one count each of felony murder in relation to kidnapping, and premeditated murder. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Circuit Judge John Delaney ruled earlier on defense motions to keep out several pieces of evidence for the Nov. 29 trial. The judge said Peltier’s reported confession to a group of fellow AIM members, including Aquash, that he killed two FBI agents, as well as witness reports that Peltier threatened Aquash at gunpoint, should be heard by a jury.

“As to the confession by Peltier to Aquash, the disclosure of this information to Aquash, if true, could provide a motive for members of AIM to silence her,” the judge wrote. “As to the threat by Peltier to Aquash, this communication tends to show that members of AIM suspected Aquash of being a government informant.

“These motives clearly are relevant and probative to the major theory of the state’s case – that an ‘order’ for Aquash’s murder was issued by members of AIM,” Delaney wrote.

anniemae_pictou.jpgDelaney ruled in favor of a defense motion to keep prosecutors from introducing a note reportedly exchanged between some AIM members that referred to Aquash as “baggage” and implied that she should be killed. A key witness, Richard Marshall, will likely claim his Fifth Amendment right and refuse to testify about the note, the judge said.

“Without direct testimony from Marshall as to the existence and content of the note, the content of the note is simply double- or triple-hearsay through the testimony of third parties,” Delaney wrote.

Attorneys in the case have declined to comment about rulings in the case.

Authorities have said Graham raped Aquash at Rios’ apartment in Rapid City, and that he later fatally shot her near Wanblee. Delaney denied a defense request to keep out testimony about the alleged rape.

Two other trials have been held in the case, which has been widely publicized in Canada because both Graham and Aquash were members of Canadian tribes. Arlo Looking Cloud was convicted in federal court in 2004 of being an accomplice to Aquash’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. A federal jury in April found Marshall not guilty of supplying the murder weapon.

marshall_dick.jpgAquash, a member of Mi’kmaq Tribe of Nova Scotia, was among the Indian militants who occupied the village of Wounded Knee in 1973. The 71-day standoff with federal authorities included an exchange of gunfire with agents who surrounded the village.

Federal charges against Graham, who is from Yukon territory and belongs to the Southern Tutchone tribe, were dropped after federal courts concluded the U.S. did not have jurisdiction because he does not belong to an American Indian tribe.

Peltier, who grew up on the Turtle Mountain reservation in North Dakota, is serving two life sentences for the execution-style deaths of FBI agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams during a June 26, 1975, standoff. The trial was held in Fargo, N.D. Peltier has maintained his innocence.

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