Ghosts of Pine Ridge: AIM Murder Trial Postponed Again

(photo: AIM-Arizona Chapter)

The violent events associated with Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge, and the American Indian Movement (AIM) have proved to be among the most haunting chapters in modern Native American history. A recent court decision ensures this controversial book will remain open longer still, as U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol has delayed again the trial of two men charged in the slaying of a fellow AIM member 33 years ago.

John Graham and Richard Marshall were scheduled to stand trial Feb. 24 in Rapid City, South Dakota on charges they committed or aided and abetted the first-degree murder of Annie Mae Aquash on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. Ms. Aquash was among the militants who occupied the village of Wounded Knee in a 71-day standoff with federal authorities in 1973, that included exchanges of gunfire with agents who surrounded the village.

Arlo Looking Cloud, a Lakota who was living homeless in Denver, was convicted in 2004 for his role in the murder and sentenced to life in prison. He is now stated to be cooperating with the government in its case against Graham and Marshall, leading to their indictments. Witnesses at Looking Cloud's trial said he, Graham and Theda Clarke drove Ms. Aquash from Denver in late 1975 and that Graham shot her as she begged for her life. Prosecution witnesses accuse Marshall of providing the handgun and shells Graham used to killed Ms. Aquash, allegedly on orders from AIM leaders who suspected she was a government informant.

Graham has denied the killing but acknowledged being in the car from Denver. He was scheduled to stand trial in October, but the indictment was dismissed because it didn't show that either Graham or Ms. Aquash belonged to a federally recognized Tribe – a prerequisite for federal criminal jurisdiction. Graham descends from the Tsimshian Tribe in the Yukon and fought his extradition from Canada for more than four years. He was extradited in December 2007 after the Supreme Court of Canada refused to review his case. Ms. Aquash was a member of Mi'kmaq Tribe of Nova Scotia.

The trial is being delayed because Marshall's attorney filed a motion in January requesting at least another two months to prepare the case, stating that the trial likely will include testimony about AIM, Wounded Knee, the 1975 slaying of two FBI agents and other events. Judge Piersol’s ruling states: "The Court agrees with counsel for Marshall that this case presents complex legal and factual issues. The crime involves multiple defendants and allegedly occurred as part of a wide-ranging conspiracy arising out of the AIM movement of the 1970s." For those whose lives and families were shattered by the blood that was shed more than 30 years ago, the ghosts of Pine Ridge are about to rise once again.

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