Man testifies at US trial he saw AIM activist shot

By Nomaan Merchant
Rapid City, South Dakota (AP) December 2010

A man who is serving a life sentence for his role in the 1975 death of an American Indian Movement activist testified last week that he stood nearby and watched another man shoot her.

Arlo Looking Cloud testified against John Graham, saying he watched as Graham shot Annie Mae Aquash on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation and left her to die. Graham, a Southern Tutchone tribal member from Canada, is charged with first- and second-degree murder and could be sent to prison for life if convicted.

Prosecutors believe Graham, Looking Cloud and a third AIM activist, Theda Clark, kidnapped and killed Aquash because AIM leaders thought she was a government spy. The death of Aquash, who was also Canadian, has long been synonymous with AIM and its often-violent struggles with federal agents during the 1970s.

Clark also appeared in court but told a judge she would exercise her constitutional right not to incriminate herself. Clark has never been charged in Aquash’s 1975 death.

Looking Cloud, who was convicted of murder in 2004, testified that he, Graham and Clark kidnapped Aquash from Denver and took her to Rapid City. He said he heard Graham and Aquash having sex in the bedroom of a Rapid City apartment. Prosecutors have alleged that Graham raped Aquash.

Looking Cloud said the four then drove toward Pine Ridge. He said the group eventually stopped on a dark highway in the reservation, where Graham took Aquash out of Clark’s Ford Pinto.

When prosecutor Rod Oswald asked what happened next, Looking Cloud replied: “I (see) him standing with Anna Mae, and then I see him shooting her.”

Graham’s attorney, John Murphy, raised questions about Looking Cloud’s criminal background and motivation for testifying. Murphy suggested he had embellished his story to get his life sentence reduced.

Murphy said Looking Cloud had previously described Graham and Aquash as friends and said the sex allegation was “something you started talking about in 2008.”

He said Looking Cloud did not include several details about the murder weapon and where the four stopped on Pine Ridge until a few years ago. “It hadn’t become part of the storyline,” Murphy said.

Looking Cloud agreed that he had left out details before, but repeatedly said he was trying to tell the truth now.

Murphy was expected to continue questioning Looking Cloud the following morning.

Earlier last week, another witness testified that she and Aquash heard AIM activist Leonard Peltier admit to killing two FBI agents in June 1975. Peltier was convicted in 1977 of shooting the agents and is serving a life sentence. He has maintained his innocence, saying the FBI framed him. The agency denies that claim.

Darlene “Kamook” Ecoffey told jurors Peltier talked about the shooting in the fall of 1975, a few months before Aquash disappeared.

Delaney originally ruled Ecoffey couldn’t testify about Peltier’s comment because it was hearsay, but he later reversed his decision.

Prosecutors also questioned a former suspect about a visit Graham and the others allegedly made to his home shortly before Aquash’s death. Richard Marshall was found not guilty in April of supplying the .32-caliber pistol used to kill Aquash.

Marshall testified last week that he didn’t give Graham a gun or keep weapons in his house. He said he didn’t remember Looking Cloud, Graham or Aquash, and he denied having a private conversation with Clark, Graham and Looking Cloud in a bedroom of his home, as his former wife, Cleo Gates, testified recently.

He did not testify at his own trial and did not want to testify at Graham’s, even though prosecutors offered him full immunity. South Dakota Judge John Delaney said Marshall couldn’t invoke his constitutional right not to incriminate himself if immunity was offered.

Jackley, the state attorney general, later asked Marshall whether he remembered an interview with British writer Serle Chapman – a likely government witness later this week – in which Marshall talked about that night. Marshall said he couldn’t.

After prompting from Jackley, Marshall acknowledged he remembered Clark asking him to let Aquash stay in his home, but that he refused.

Graham’s attorney, John Murphy, asked Marshall whether he had any discussions with Graham, Looking Cloud or Clark about hurting Aquash.

Aquash, a member of the Mi’kmaq tribe of Nova Scotia, was 30 when she died. Her death came about two years after she participated in AIM’s 71-day occupation of the South Dakota reservation town of Wounded Knee.

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