Verdict in an Open Case
by Charlie McKenzie
9 February 2004
For the record, I have never met Mr. Paul DeMain. Though we spoke briefly on the telephone sometime last year, I have never been in his employ, nor he in mine. I'm not sure when Mr. DeMain began covering the murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, but my own interest began following a brief conversation with Verne Bellecourt on the steps of the Vancouver courthouse during Leonard Peltier's extradition hearing in 1976. Indeed, it was that conversation which first convinced me that leaders of the American Indian Movement had likely ordered Anna Mae's execution. Nothing I have heard or read since have led me to think otherwise. A subsequent conversation with Dennis Banks in 1988 only served to reinforce that view. Over a 28-year period — long before I ever heard of Paul DeMain, J.S. Dill or Richard Two Elk — I have written on the case for various Canadian publications which include The Vancouver Sun, The Montreal Daily News, The Sunday Express (Montreal), BlowUp Magazine, HOUR Magazine, Ottawa EXPress, The Vancouver Courier and NOW Magazine (Toronto). In fact, an article I wrote for NOW Magazine in July, 2003, was recently used by John Graham's lawyer, Terry LaLiberte in his argument for Graham's bail.
Also for the record, I am not a native, nor a native 'wannabe' - I have enough difficulty being Scots-Irish — but insofar as being a 'bogus character' - that is news to me and I would like to see some proof.]
Nearly three decades after Canadian born activist Anna Mae Pictou Aquash of the militant American Indian Movement AIM), was shot as she pleaded for her life and prayed for her children, a federal jury in Rapid City, SD, found former AIM supporter, Arlo Looking Cloud, 50, guilty of her murder. A second man indicted in her killing, also a former AIM supporter, John Graham of Vancouver, is currently on bail fighting extradition. The charges carry a mandatory life sentence.
During Looking Cloud's four-day trial, the jury learned how paranoia and dissension racked AIM throughout the 1970s. Prosecution witnesses told how some movement leaders wanted Ms. Aquash killed because they erroneously believed she was a government spy.
Jurors learned how the 1975 case went unsolved for years because AIM members would not talk to authorities. That changed in the mid-90s when some finally came forward to tell how Anna Mae was taken with her wrists bound from a Denver 'safe-house' by Looking Cloud, Graham, and a woman named Thelma Clark, and driven to her execution site in the Dakota Badlands. Clark, 80, who now lives in a Nebraska care facility has not been indicted.
Clutching a white eagle feather, Ka-Mook Banks, ex-wife of AIM founder Dennis Banks, tearfully told the court of a phone call she received from Banks Feb. 25, 1976, the day Anna Mae's body was found at the bottom of a ravine. He called to say Anna Mae had turned up dead, although the body remained unidentified until 10 days later.
"From that day," she said, "I started believing the American Indian Movement had something to do with it."
She also implicated AIM icon Leonard Peltier in the 1975 shooting of two FBI agents. Peltier is presently serving two life sentences for the agents' deaths, but has always maintained his innocence. He has since become an international celebrity, garnering support from the likes of Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.
She told the court how Peltier once boasted to her, Anna Mae and others about shooting the federal agents. Peltier made a gun with his fingers and said that one agent "begged for his life, but I shot him anyway."
Anna Mae's eldest daughter, Denise Maloney of Toronto, told the court how she and her sister received a telephone call from Arlo Looking Cloud two years ago in which he recounted his role in their mother's death. He claimed that he didn't know their mother was going to be killed, but admitted helping Graham and Theda Clark take her to spot where she was executed.
Another piece of damning evidence was a taped interview in which Looking Cloud blamed Graham directly for the murder.
"Graham shot her in the head as she was praying," he said, "then he gave me the gun and I thought if they killed her, they're going to kill me, so I emptied what was left in the gun."John Graham insists he is innocent and that Anna Mae was a very dear friend, but a spokesperson said he would not comment on the verdict until he sees a transcript from Looking Cloud's trial. Members of his support group, 'The John Graham Defence Committee,' also refused to be interviewed for this article, but posted their own version of events on their website "provided by an independent journalist present at the trial, documenting testimony and providing some insight in the precedings."(sic).
Rallying public support for John Graham has not been easy despite an online petition and recent fund-raising benefits in Whitehorse and Vancouver. A San Francisco benefit, featuring noted native actor Floyd Westerman (Dances With Wolves, Lakota Health Products, etc.), was abruptly cancelled when AIM organizers learned that Graham had told The Vancouver Province that he had "disavowed AIM's goals and its male leaders, who he said became "macho Hollywood Indians."
Some of his more enthusiastic Vancouver supporters have also angered many indigenous women. During a December bail hearing, one challenged an Aquash family representative to "prove it was her body they found." Another posted an Internet invitation for her daughters to "come and sit down with John Graham and see how innocent he is."
Graham has not replied.
Group spokesperson, native journalist Karen L. Testerman of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reserve, explained that many women knew what happened to Anna Mae for years but were too frightened to speak.
"There was an unspoken 'code' against doing so," she said, "with many intimidating acts against those who might."
"When his defence committee started telling the world he (Graham) could not have killed her because he was her good friend, a number of women who know the truth were very angry. We don't like seeing him made out to be the victim -- Anna Mae is the victim and everyone must remember that."
Graham's next court appearance is March 3 in Vancouver and Arlo Looking Cloud will be sentenced April 23. Other indictments may soon follow.