Native Sun News: Rios pleads guilty for role in 1975 Aquash case
The following story was written and reported by Evelyn Broecher. All content © Native Sun News.

RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA -- The tension was clearly visible on the faces of the prosecution as well as the defense while 20 members of the public watched in shock as Thelma Rios entered a plea agreement before Judge Delaney at the Pennington County Courthouse on Monday.

The original charges by the state were dropped and a new charge was entered. Rios then entered a guilty plea to the new charge of accessory to kidnapping. The original charges could have netted her life in prison if found guilty.

Rios will not serve any prison time. Although she could have received a five year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine; Delaney suspended the maximum five-year sentence then ordered 90 days in jail, which Rios has already served while awaiting her release on bond.

Maryanne Highcrane of Rapid City speculated Rios pled guilty to the lesser charge, because Rios’ daughter Anna recently had a devastating stroke requiring ‘round-the-clock’ care. She came home from the hospital this same day.

Rios was originally indicted last year in connection to the 1975 slaying of American Indian Movement activist Annie Mae Aquash. She was to be tried with John Graham who allegedly shot and killed Aquash on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Graham, who is originally from a Canadian tribe, listened while witness Donovin Sprague responded to questions concerning the confidentiality afforded to people who seek the help of a medicine man.

The ultimate goal of the defense was to obtain clergy status from the court for medicine men in a struggle to liken the confidentiality role of Lakota/Dakota/Nakota medicine men to priest.

After Sprague established that medicine men indeed practice confidentiality, Delaney asked, “What if a person who is not L/D/N horribly murders a five-year-old child from the same band as the medicine man and then tells the medicine man he did it. Can the medicine man give that information to anyone?”

Sprague responded, “It would be the medicine man’s discretion to tell.” Delaney asked, “Where is it written that medicine men practice total confidentiality?”

Sprague responded, “Our history is an oral history. There is a traditional world and a contemporary world. Many books are written by what we call new-agers or wannabes. They try to use our traditions without fully understanding them.” “In L/D/N culture it is not polite to speak of our traditions. It is understood that confidentiality will be maintained by medicine men,” Sprague said.

Final decisions on this issue and discussion on whether Delaney will sign an order to compel Dick Marshall to testify at Graham’s trial are scheduled to be settled on Monday.

Dana Hanna, representing Richard Marshall, said Marshall is going to exercise his fifth-amendment rights if required to testify. Hanna maintained his trepidation that the prosecution is setting a perjury-trap which would constitute Marshall’s third strike.

Hanna’s main concern is events in the Aquash murder encompassed several states. Jackley agreed to try to obtain agreements by the other states not to prosecute Marshall in reference to his testimony.

Marshall was acquitted early this year for his alleged part in the Aquash murder. Graham’s trial is expected to begin November 29.

(Contact Evelyn Broecher at

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Woman reaches guilty plea over her role in 1975 murder of Aquash (11/9)
Native Sun News: Thelma Rios denies role in 1973 Aquash murder (9/10)