Graham pleads not guilty in 32-year-old Aquash slaying case

Rapid City, South Dakota (CP/AP/ICC)

John Graham

Only one day after the Canadian Supreme Court cleared the way for the extradition of John Boy Patton-Graham, a Vancouver, British Columbia man and former member of the American Indian Movement, pled not guilty in his first court hearing December 7 and was assigned an attorney to handle his case.

Graham was charged with the first-degree murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

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Annie Mae

Her body was found during February 1976 north of Wanblee with a gunshot wound to the back of her head.

Magistrate Veronica Duffy ordered Graham to be held in the Pennington County Jail. No trial date was set. If convicted, Graham would face a mandatory life prison sentence.

Graham had been in custody in Vancouver, British Columbia, since June. He was escorted across the border Dec. 6, and placed in U.S. Marshals Service custody, U.S. Attorney Marty Jackley said. Graham, 52, listened intently during the short hearing, nodded several times that he understood the proceedings and asked for only one point of clarification. Lawyer John Murphy was appointed to represent Graham.

One of Graham's daughters, Naneek Graham, told The Associated Press that his family was upset because they didn't get to see him before he was transferred.

"He wants be able to tell his side. He's been silent for all these years, these four years he's been under house arrest and in jail," she said.

Graham was arrested in 2003 and charged in the 1975 death of Native activist Anna (Annie) Mae Pictou-Aquash, who was shot in the back of the head execution style on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota.

Aquash, a Mi'kmaq originally from Nova Scotia, was killed during a period of unrest and protests by the American Indian Movement, known as AIM. The organization has been tied to gun running, bombings, and drug dealing during the 1970's in several federal cases.

AIM was also involved in the occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1973 where activists and authorities exchanged gunfire during a 71-day stand off which destroyed the village which has not been rebuilt.

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Ray Robinson

The Aquash case may have implications for leadership members of the American Indian Movement alleged to have been involved in several murders of those they believed were informers going back to the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. Those murders include that of Black civil rights worker and Martin Luther King disciple Perry Ray Robinson Jr ., according to AIM members now cooperating with federal authorities.

Authorities allege Aquash was murdered on orders from the leadership of AIM, because the group believed she was an FBI informant.

They say she fled to Denver from South Dakota in fear of her life, but was abducted by Graham and others and brought back for questioning by AIM members.

According to the 2004 testimony of KaMook Nichols, the former wife of Dennis Banks, Aquash, Nichols and Bernie Lafferty were all witnesses to Leonard Peltier bragging about shooting two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975 and that Peltier was involved in at least one interrogation of Aquash in June of 1975 during an AIM national conference in Farmington, New Mexico.

Aquash told several close friends that Peltier had "put a gun in her mouth" during his questioning of her. The bragging incident in November of 1975, while Peltier was on the run on murder (Jumping Bull FBI agent shooting) and attempted murder charges (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) may have played one of several motives for her killing.

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Vern Bellecourt

In 1999, AIM leader Russell Means during a Denver, Colorado press conference named Vernon and Clyde Bellecourt as the principle AIM leaders behind the orders that led to Aquash's execution.

Arlo Looking Cloud, Graham's co-accused, was convicted of first-degree murder two years ago and sentenced to life in prison.

Looking Cloud told FBI agents in a videotaped statement shown in court that he saw Graham kill Aquash. Looking Cloud had previously told friends and relatives about his and Graham's involvement in the murder as well according to court testimony.

One of Aquash's two daughters said she was overwhelmed after learning of the decision.

"We were sitting on edge hoping and praying that it would be news in our favor so we could move on," said Denise Maloney Pictou of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Graham has said he had nothing to do with Aquash's death, that the two met in Minneapolis and struck up a friendship as young AIM members and fellow Canadians. But Graham also admitted in a 2001 recorded interview, that he was with Aquash right up until the moments before she was shot on or around December 11, 1975, according to the Associated Press who verified the transcript and recorded interview. The interview was set up by Vernon Bellecourt and his wife Janice Denny with the original intent of finding a way to enhance Graham's alibi according to documents provided to News From Indian Country.

Graham's lawyers argued that the evidence against him was feeble. But under the U.S./Canadian Treaty governing extraditions the United States did not have too, and did not provide all the evidence that will be used against Graham to Canada. The U.S. only had to establish the threshold of evidence necessary for the extradition court to determine that a Canadian citizen might be "charged" with a similar crime in Canada.

The Canadian extradition and appellate courts all indicated that the evidence was sufficient for a similar charge in Canada, and the proper forum to test the credibility of all the evidence to be used against Graham would be during his trial.

Lower courts agreed there were deficiencies in the record of the case provided by U.S. authorities, but said there was enough evidence to justify extradition.

Graham was ordered to be extradited in June 2006, but that was stayed pending appeals.

As is usual in leave-to-appeal cases, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for its decision.

Carson Walker of the Associated Press contributed to this article.



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