Native Sun News: Wrapup of the first week of Aquash murder trial
The following story was written and reported by Ernestine Chasing Hawk and Evelyn Broecher . All content © Native Sun News.

RAPID CITY — In a trial that has drawn international attention, witnesses testified last week that American Indian Movement activist Anna Mae Aquash was kidnapped and murdered amid rumors fueled by jealousy.

Aquash, a Mi’kmaq from Nova Scotia, a prominent leader of AIM during the 1970’s, was found murdered in the Badlands on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in February of 1976.

AIM member, John Graham, a Southern Tutchone Athabaskan from Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, is currently standing trial accused as the trigger man in the execution style murder of Aquash.

In January of 2003, Fritz Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham were indicted by a federal grand jury on murder charges in connection to the death of Aquash. Looking Cloud was found guilty by a federal grand jury on February 6, 2004 and sentenced to life in prison.

In August 2008, another man, Richard “Dickie” Marshall was indicted on federal charges accused of providing the .32-caliber pistol used to kill Aquash. In April of 2010 he was found not guilty.

Graham, living in Vancouver, Canada at the time of his indictment, fought extradition for years. In June 2006 the Canadian Minister of Justice ordered Graham extradited to the U.S. and in 2007 he was brought back to South Dakota where he faced murder charges in federal court.

Federal courts dismissed charges against Graham because they said U.S. prosecutors didn’t have jurisdiction to prosecute, because both he and Aquash belonged to Canadian Tribes not recognized by the U.S. Government.

The South Dakota Attorney General pushed for prosecution of Graham in state court because some of the incidents surrounding Aquash’s death happened in Rapid City. In Sept. 2009 Graham along with Thelma Rios was indicted on state charges in relation to kidnapping and premeditated murder. Graham was also charged with felony murder related to rape.

Rios pled guilty to accessory to kidnapping on Nov. 8, 2010 and was sentenced to the maximum of five years with five years suspended and five years probation.

Former U.S. Attorney Marty Jackley, now the South Dakota’s Attorney General, is serving as lead prosecutor in the case assisted by Robert Mandel, prosecuting attorney in the 2004 trial of Looking Cloud. Graham is represented by attorney John Murphy of Rapid City and paralegal Roxanne Ducheneaux. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Jeff Davis is hearing the case.

In the courtroom for the trial were Naneek Graham, the daughter of the defendant, as well as Denise and Debbie Maloney Pictou daughters of Aquash along with their friend Catherine Martin who produced the film “The Spirit of Annie Mae.”

Last Wednesday morning Jackley began with his opening statement and said the defendant shot Aquash because the activist group’s leaders thought she was a government informant.

“In the early morning hours, in December of 1975, Theda Clarke was driving north between Kadoka and Wanblee via Highway 73. John Graham was seated next to Clarke, and Arlo Looking Cloud was in the back seat. Aquash was either next to Looking Cloud or in the hatchback area of the red Pinto. A gun is passed from Clarke to Graham.”

“The car pulls over. Graham grabs Aquash. Looking Cloud is hesitant as Aquash is begging for her life or possibly praying. Graham then shoots her, and she falls over a cliff.”

Jackley claimed a writer named Searle Chapman and Darlene “Kamook” Nichols Banks-Ecoffey voluntarily provided the government with information – years after the death -- about the events leading to Aquash’s death.

In Murphy’s opening statement he said that the prosecution’s star witnesses Chapman and Banks-Ecoffey are paid government informants. Banks-Ecoffey received $30,000 and Chapman $100,000 for recorded interviews he said.

“Then there was no more recording, but the government paid Chapman $70,000 from 2003 – 2009. The government granted green cards to Chapman and his family three weeks before he testified at Dick Marshall’s trial,” Murphy added. Murphy mentioned the website and said, “Chapman has made a career off Indians.”

Murphy also termed Looking Cloud as a star witness saying, “He hopes to benefit by talking to you [the jury].”

He explained the word benefit by saying that Looking Cloud was in a “hellish” prison in Louisiana. He claims Looking Cloud changed his statement from prior testimony in which he said that Graham and Aquash were playing cards. Murphy said, “He used the Rule 35 process and now says Graham raped Aquash.”

Marshall had refused to testify at Graham’s trial but Judge John Delaney ruled that Marshall cannot exercise his Fifth Amendment right not to testify if immunity is offered. Roger Amiotte, a lifelong rancher said on February 24, 1976 while walking in a draw looking for a projecting badland embankment to run a fence against, found the body of a person lying at the bottom of a canyon.

Through his testimony, he described the location of the body as 100 to 150 feet on the west side of Highway 73 between Kadoka and Wanblee and the embankment above the canyon where the body was located as being about 30 feet high. Amiotte described that February as particularly warm with daytime temperatures in the 60 degree range for many days.

Amiotte also identified on the wrist of the body a distinctive silver and turquoise butterfly bracelet.

The prosecution then called John Munis, FBI Special Agent on the Pine Ridge Reservation the day the unidentified body was found. He testified the decedent was removed from the scene and taken to Pine Ridge Hospital for an autopsy to determine cause of death. A photo taken at the scene was shown to the jury of the decedent’s arm on which the butterfly bracelet could clearly be seen. He further testified Dr. Brown a pathologist from Scottsbluff, Neb. arrived the next day to perform the autopsy.

Munis then established after the autopsy that the decedent had no identification and was instructed to have Dr. Brown remove the hands and place them in formaldehyde so they could be sent to a Washington lab and analyzed for fingerprints. Dr. Brown listed cause of death as exposure and she was buried in a pauper’s grave on March 2, 1976. Former FBI special agent William Wood testified that on March 8, 1976 the body was identified as that of Anna Mae Aquash. He requested the body be exhumed “because she was a known associate of AIM and Leonard Peltier.” He said he ordered a second autopsy which was performed by Dr. Garry Peterson a forensic pathologist from Hennepin County Hospital in Minneapolis. Peterson performed an x-ray which revealed a piece of metal shrapnel lodged in the back of her skull.

Wood said the piece of metal was removed and sent to FBI headquarters to determine the caliper and type of weapon used. He said Dr. Peterson then listed the cause of death as gunshot wound to the head.

In cross examination Murphy asked Wood if he was aware that Attorney Bruce Ellison had also asked that a second autopsy be performed and that AIM members were asking for the same relief. Wood replied that he was the only one who obtained a court order for the second autopsy.

He asked Wood if he was aware that Aquash had been wanted as a fugitive in a weapons charge and that there was a nationwide manhunt going on for Leonard Peltier and Dennis Banks. Wood said he was.

Murphy also questioned Wood about a report he made about suspicious activity at Celo and Irene Black Crow’s residence and if he ever investigated the reports.

Nathan Merrick, former Bureau of Indian Affairs officer testified next and said he was one of several federal officers called to the scene when the report of a body being found North of Wanblee came over the dispatch.

He said he collected evidence including strands of hair from the embankment which indicated she may have been thrown from off the embankment. “She had blood on the back of her head which indicated that there was some sort of foul play,” Merrick testified.

During cross-examination, Murphy said that none of the FBI reports indicate foul play and questioned why the body was buried so soon after it was discovered. Merrick said it wasn’t his responsibility to have the body buried and that any reasonable person would not have buried the body before it was identified and if they suspected foul play.

Testimony continued Thursday morning with Dr. Garry Peterson the forensic pathologist from Hennepin County Hospital in Minneapolis who performed the second autopsy on March 11, 1976 after exhumation of the body that had been buried at Red Cloud Indian School.

Peterson testified concerning a bullet fragment he found in the temple of the head during his autopsy of the body. He claims he had examined Brown’s report of the first autopsy, and there was no mention of the bullet. Furthermore, Brown concluded the cause of death to be exposure. Peterson concluded the cause of death to be a gunshot wound to the head.

Peterson also testified the cause of death was not from being hit by a motor vehicle. Defense attorney John Murphy asked Peterson why the second autopsy was performed.

He replied he was contacted by the FBI and by AIM attorneys Ken Tilson and Bruce Ellison.

The prosecution then called Angie Begay, a.k.a. Angie Janis, who testified that she was Graham’s girlfriend at the time of Aquash’s abduction and that she was also the former girlfriend of Dennis Banks with whom she has a daughter, Arrow Woman Banks. Janis testified she knew Thelma Rios well enough to know her voice and that she did receive a phone call from Rios saying “something to the effect that Annie Mae needed to be brought back to Rapid City. She was an informant.” She said she passed the information to others in AIM, but didn't remember who she told.

Janis testified she went to the house of Troy Lynn Yellow Wood [in Denver] on that evening where people of all kinds including AIM members would gather frequently. She claimed some of those present were Yellow Wood, Theda Clarke, John Boy Patton, Arlo Looking Cloud, Aquash and members of the Crusade of Justice. She testified that Aquash was in the basement and that her hands were tied as she was being taken out the door by Looking Cloud, Patton and Clark. She continued that she did not hear discussion that Aquash was a government informant, did not see a gun, nor did she remember Aquash saying anything.

She was asked if Graham came home that night and she replied, “No.”

During a break and prior to cross examination Janis looked at Graham and whispered, “I’m sorry.”

During cross examination Janis was asked if she knew Robert Ecoffey, if he had ever been her boss and if they were related and she replied, “Yes.”

Murphy told Janis that in an interview with Ecoffey, Yellow Wood accused her of trying to prevent her from calling the police and asked if she was afraid she might be prosecuted for taking the phone away from her and hanging it up and Janis said, “No.” Murphy then began showing Janis transcripts of her previous testimony to grand jurors, as well as trials and investigation testimony and pointed out inconsistencies.

“Today, you can’t say you relayed any information from Rios. You told a grand jury Aquash walked out on her own and didn’t see anyone push or shove her. At the 2009 [Richard] Marshall Trial, you said you were not sure John Graham was a supporter of AIM. Sometimes she’s [Aquash] tied up and sometimes she isn’t. Sometimes in front, and sometimes in back, and sometimes to a board. Is that true?” “Yes,” responded Janis.

Rod Oswald then called Troy Lynn Star Yellow Wood to the stand. Yellow Wood said that Aquash was dropped off at her house near Thanksgiving Day. She stayed at her house for about two weeks and that they became close in that time.

She said Aquash was upset because fellow members of the American Indian Movement were accusing her of being an informant.

Yellow Wood testified that Aquash had told her that at an AIM meeting in Farmington. Leonard Peltier held a gun to her head and questioned her about being an informant, “I want to hear it from the horse’s mouth, are you a government informant?” he asked and that she had replied, “If you believe that then kill me, I am tired of people accusing me.” Yellow Wood was asked if at some time people showed up at her house to talk about Aquash being an informant.

She replied that they had but that she was not totally privy to discussions of Corkey Gonzalez, Ernesto Vigil, members of the Chicano Rights Group, Graham, and Clarke who is Yellow Wood’s aunt.

She did say however that she overheard Vigil say, “I don’t know what you guys do about snitches but this is what we do,” as she drew her fingers across her throat.

Yellow Wood testified that Aquash was “scared to death,” and told her, “If they take me from here, you will never see me alive again.” She said it “felt wrong” and that Aquash shouldn’t have to go if she didn’t want but that she hadn’t realized the grave danger that Aquash was in.

“I knew all of these people and I had nothing to fear from any of them,” she said. “I felt really stupid that I didn’t know what was going on.”

Yellow Wood testified that she called several people asking for help and when she tried to call the police Janis took the phone away from her and hung it up. She said Janis told her, “Don’t do that you are going to bring a lot of trouble on yourself.” And that she begged Janis to help her to not “let this happen.”

She said that when Graham and Clark were “flanking” Aquash and walking her down the hallway, she tried to stop them and that Clark started cursing at her to “get the hell out of the way.”

She said Aquash began to cry, then “shook off the tears stood up straight” and said, “I will go with them. I just want to get this over with. I am tired of them saying this to me.” In cross examination Yellow Wood was asked about inconsistencies in her testimony throughout the years and she stated that she “gave as little information as I possibly could because of my relationship with Arlo.”

When Yellow Wood was questioned about events leading up to Aquash being at her home and Aquash’s involvement with Banks and Peltier she said that Aquash told her that the reason why she went on the trip to Washington in 1975 was because of her love for Banks.

“The reason I was on the trip was to be with Dennis Banks,” Aquash had told her. When asked if Looking Cloud ever talked about those events, Yellow Wood said, “It wasn’t ‘till a number of years later. He and I went to see John Trudell when he was playing for Midnight Oil.”

The prosecution then asked, “Ever hear Looking Cloud tell Trudell what happened to Aquash?” Yellow Wood said she had and was shocked.

Even Hodge a ballistics specialist testified that his examination of the bullet found lodged in Aquash’s head was a .32 caliper bullet that appeared to have been fired from a revolver. But because the bullet was so mutilated he could never have identified it with a particular firearm.

Next on the witness stand was Attorney Robert Riter who testified that he had been appointed as Aquash’s attorney in 1975 for two felony weapons charges filed against her. He said that after she did not show for a motions hearing he sent her a letter with a plea offer that if she plead guilty to one count the other would be dropped. In a second letter Riter sent, the government offered to drop the two felony charges against her to misdemeanors if she were to testify to what she knew about the shooting of the two FBI agents. He said he didn’t know if the letters ever reached her.

Next on the witness stand was George Palfey who said he received a call from Yellow Wood who said she was having trouble at her house and asked if he could come over. He said he visited with Aquash in the basement of Yellow Woods house and had offered to take her to a safe house, the AIM house in Denver and that she refused. She told him she was used to it and had been through this before and that whenever she was being accused of being an informant she said, “It is usually a jealous woman or a jealous wife that is accusing me.”

Palfey said Aquash was a very beautiful woman and that he could understand why they would be jealous of her. He maintained that he never saw Looking Cloud at Yellow Wood's house that day and conferred with her testimony about Ernesto Vigil.

The next witness called by Oswald, was Candi Hamilton. She then described events taking place in the period when the two FBI agents were killed on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Back then, she worked for a legal committee for anyone who was harassed by the Goons and the FBI. She resided in Oglala at the time and Aquash had stayed with her before.

The questioning then went to the night she spent at Rios’ apartment located where the Knollwood apartments are now located in Rapid City. She claims she and another woman went upstairs shortly after David Hill and Rios arrived. She said that Hill and Rios were not a couple at the time. Before she awakened, she heard voices and the two she recognized were Bruce Ellison [AIM attorney] and Rios.

Later that day, Hamilton claims she went to the legal defense committee house. She went to an upstairs office and later came down for coffee. Aquash then came to the kitchen by herself and Hamilton said Aquash clearly had been crying. She offered for Aquash to stay at her house in Oglala. Aquash declined and said that she had to go back in there [another room in the house].

Hamilton then testified she did not know who was in the room, yet she recognized the voices of Rios, Madonna Thunder Hawk, and Lorali Means. Hamilton claimed she never saw Aquash again after that morning.

Hamilton then told the defense she did not believe Aquash was free to leave. When asked by Murphy if Aquash could have left, Hamilton said, “Yes.”

Fast-forwarding to the exhumation of the body for a second autopsy, Hamilton described the events. She claimed she attended the exhumation where three FBI agents were laughing and making fun of her and the deceased. Those present at first were just she and the police.

Hamilton then testified she attended the autopsy. Although she believed she could not trust FBI agents, Aquash’s family had asked Hamilton to ask about getting something that belonged to Aquash.

Hamilton then testified she did ask an FBI agent about it. She claims the FBI agent said, “You want something of Aquash’s?” and he proceeded to throw a box at Hamilton. He then said, “Here, here’s her hands.” Earlier testimony revealed Aquash’s hands had been removed for finger printing by experts.

Hamilton then claimed she was with Aquash at a home on the reservation one time. She claimed Aquash told her the FBI had threatened her life on a previous occasion. She said the FBI came rolling in on the property and Aquash found an attic panel and climbed into it. Hamilton claims Aquash told her to have someone get a car, and park close to the door. She did escape.

Jackley called Cleo Marshall Gates to the stand. It was established that Gates was married to Richard Marshall in the timeline the prosecution alleges.

Gates told of the evening believed to be the evening before Aquash was killed. She claimed it was about 11 a.m. when Clarke, Looking Cloud, Graham, and Aquash arrived at her home in Allen. She claimed she did not know Graham and Aquash at the time. She said one walked Aquash to a chair in her living room, and Clarke, Looking Cloud, Graham, and Richard Marshall went into a bedroom with the door closed.

She continued to say Marshall emerged from the room five-to-ten minutes later. Marshall then asked Gates if “We can keep her [Aquash] here.” Dick said, “We can tie her up and keep her in the basement.” Gates said she refused. She continued that Marshall then went back into the bedroom, and then, all of them came out of the bedroom.

Murphy then began his cross examination. He said to Gates she testified three times before under oath and never mentioned a request to “tie her up.” He reminded Gates she testified at Marshall’s and Looking Cloud’s trials that Aquash went to the chair in the living room on her own. Murphy then inquired, “Aquash was never introduced to you?” “Yes,” Gates replied. Murphy then pointed out, “There was nothing preventing her from leaving, she never asked for help, didn’t ask to use the phone, and did not leave.” Gates then affirmed, “Yes.”

Gates further testified to Oswald that someone wanted directions for the back road to Rosebud.

Murphy then asked her, “Do you know why they wanted back road directions to Rosebud?” Gated replied, “No.” Murphy then asked if she knew in that time period that people were getting shot at on reservation roads. “Yes,” she answered.

Next, Jackley called Darlene Nichols-Banks-Ecoffey [a.k.a. Kamook] to the witness stand. It was found she is married to Robert Ecoffey, and she had been married to Dennis Banks from 1972 – 1989.

Jackley asked her who the general AIM leadership was. She replied there were from 10 – 12 people; including Dennis Banks, Leonard Peltier, Russell Means, Bill Means, Madonna Gilbert [Thunder Hawk], Herb Hollis, and the Bellecourt brothers.

Ecoffey claimed she met Aquash in 1973 and knew Clarke, because she was always around. When asked to describe Clarke’s personality, she replied, “Bossy. She was older, and people listened to her when she told them what to do.”

Ecoffey said she knew Graham, because he was always with Clarke. She also claimed she knew who Looking Cloud was, but not personally.

She was asked about the incident in Farmington where it had been alleged Peltier held a gun to Aquash while asking her if she was an informant. She claimed she was in jail with Aquash in Oregon after the police shootout in Marlon Brando’s motor home in 1975. [Peltier and Dennis Banks escaped.]

Ecoffey then told of a discussion she had with Aquash while in the Oregon Jail about the Farmington incident. The prosecution asked, “What was her reaction?” Kamook answered, “Nervous. Upset.” She said she was seven months pregnant at the time and she was not charged in the incident.

She was then asked about the shootout at Jumping Bull’s residence in 1975 when two FBI agents were killed. She replied she was driving toward the residence where she also lived. She was returning from taking her sick daughter to the doctor.

Ecoffey continued, “I saw hands in the tall grass waving for me to turn around.” Next, discussion between Judge Delaney and the attorneys took place. Delaney then explained to the jury and gallery that his over ruling of objections may seem to be inconsistent. He explained that some evidence is considered hearsay, and it will not be allowed.

Ecoffey then claimed she separated from Dennis Banks in 1989. She said she began looking into Aquash’s case in 2000. She claims she did interviews with Clarke and Looking Cloud 2000. She claimed Looking Cloud became choked-up and very emotional. When asked by the prosecution when she heard of Aquash’s death, she replied, “It was my nephew’s birthday. It was February 24, 1976 when Dennis Banks called me to tell me they found Aquash."

The trial is expected to last 10-13 days. Forty witnesses are expected to testify. Among those names are: Rapid City attorney, Charles Abourezk, Serle Chapman, Arlo Looking Cloud, Thelma Rios, and Richard Marshall.