Witness: Suspect in AIM slaying ‘got real nervous’

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

The Canadian man accused of shooting an American Indian Movement activist in late 1975 acted nervous and his hand shook when he was asked about her almost two decades later, a federal investigator said in court on December 7th.

Robert Ecoffey, a former U.S. marshal, testified against John Graham, who’s accused of shooting Annie Mae Aquash and leaving the Canadian woman to die on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation.

Prosecutors believe Graham, and two other AIM activists, Arlo Looking Cloud and Theda Clark, kidnapped and killed Aquash because AIM leaders thought she was a government spy. Aquash’s death has long been synonymous with AIM and its often-violent struggles with federal agents during the 1970s.

Ecoffey told jurors that he and another federal agent met with Graham in April 1994 in Whitehorse, the city in western Canada where Graham lived at the time. Ecoffey said he approached Graham one afternoon at work.

When Ecoffey introduced himself and told Graham why he wanted to talk, Graham allegedly replied, “How did you find out about me?”

Ecoffey said he told Graham about an alleged meeting in Denver regarding Aquash. Other witnesses have said the meeting included discussion of whether Aquash was an informant.

“He got real nervous,” Ecoffey said and added that Graham’s hand quivered as he held a cigarette.

Graham decided to meet with Ecoffey and the other agent, Mitch Pourier of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, at a Whitehorse park that night.

Ecoffey is now the BIA superintendent for the Pine Ridge reservation and married to another witness, Darlene “Kamook” Ecoffey, who testified December 6th.

Looking Cloud, who started his testimony December 6th, returned to the stand and repeated his claim that he saw Graham take Aquash out of a car and stood nearby as Graham shot her.

Looking Cloud was convicted in 2004 for his role in Aquash’s death and is serving a life sentence.

Graham’s attorney, John Murphy, contended that Looking Cloud was just looking for a more lenient sentence and continued to grill him over differences between his current testimony and what he previously told investigators, including Ecoffey.

Aquash’s older daughter, Denise Maloney Pictou, also testified on December 7th. She described a 2002 phone call in which she said Looking Cloud told her that Graham and Clark took Aquash from the car and that he only heard a gunshot.

Maloney Pictou, who was 10 when Aquash disappeared, said she last saw her mother in September 1975.

“There were lots of conversations amongst the adults,” Maloney Pictou recalled. “There were requests for her not to leave.”

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.

AIM was founded in the late 1960s to protest the U.S. government’s treatment of Indians and demand the government honor its treaties with tribes. It gained national attention in 1972 when it took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington but has since faded from public view.

Graham, a 55-year-old Southern Tutchone Indian from Canada, faces first- and second-degree murder charges and could receive life in prison if convicted.

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