Aiding murder charges dropped against Graham in 1975 AIM slaying

Judge rules John Graham not considered an Indian when in the United States and says other charges may also be dismissed

Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) 5-09

A federal judge dismissed a key charge April 30 against one of two men accused in the 1975 slaying of a fellow activist American Indian Movement member.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol filed an order dismissing one count of aiding and abetting murder against John Graham, who faces federal murder charges along with Richard Marshall in the slaying of Annie Mae Aquash on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The two men had faced murder charges in 2003, but Piersol threw out the original indictment because it didn’t show that either Graham or Aquash belonged to a federally recognized tribe. Tribal status or affiliation gives the federal government jurisdiction in the case.

Graham is from the Tsimshian Tribe in Canada’s Yukon territory and Aquash was a member of Mi’kmaq Tribe in Nova Scotia.

Federal prosecutors said Graham shot Aquash because AIM leaders suspected her of being a government informant. They said Marshall gave Graham a .32-caliber revolver and shells before the shooting.


Federal prosecutors re-indicted Graham and Marshall, combined their cases and appealed Piersol’s ruling, saying Graham could be tried because another co-defendant, Looking Cloud, is an American Indian. A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis has yet to rule on that appeal.

But Piersol agreed with defense lawyers, who argued that federal law requires membership to a federally recognized tribe.

“There is no authority for this proposition, and the Court rejects it,” Piersol said.

In dismissing the charge, prosecutors now must prove that either Graham or Aquash was part Indian at the time of the killing in order to maintain other parts of the case.

Pierson said in his order that two other charges against Graham will likely be dismissed, though the state of South Dakota could try him. He also scheduled a hearing to discuss whether Graham and Marshall’s trial should be separated if charges are dropped against Graham.

U.S. Attorney Marty Jackley said he appealed the dismissal of the third count to a federal appeals court.

The trial is scheduled to start May 12.