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Prosecutors charge 2 for 1975 AIM slaying

State prosecutors announced murder charges Thursday against a Canadian man and South Dakota woman in the 1975 slaying of an American Indian Movement member.
AIM Slaying
John Graham, shown in 2006 in Canada, is ccused of raping and murdering a woman in South Dakota. Prosecutors believe she was killed because leaders of the American Indian Movement suspected she was a government informant. Chuck Stoody / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

State prosecutors announced murder charges Thursday against a Canadian man and South Dakota woman in the 1975 slaying of an American Indian Movement member.

John Graham, of the Southern Tutchone tribe in Canada's Yukon territory, is charged with one count of felony murder in relation to kidnapping, one count of felony murder in relation to rape and one count of premeditated murder in the slaying of his fellow Canadian and AIM member Annie Mae Aquash near Wanblee, S.D., prosecutors said.

Thelma Rios, 64, of Rapid City, in whose apartment Aquash was allegedly raped, is charged one count of felony murder in relation to kidnapping and one count of premeditated murder, said chief state prosecutor Marty Jackley and Pennington County state's attorney Glenn Brenner.

All charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Graham, 54, was supposed to stand trial with former AIM member Richard Marshall in federal court, but two courts ruled the U.S. government lacked jurisdiction to try Graham because neither he nor Aquash are American Indian. The federal government has jurisdiction over American Indian-related crimes.

'This isn't a turf battle'
There are no jurisdictional issues in Marshall's case, and the charges against him still stand. The federal case is on hold pending an appeal of the jurisdictional rulings on Graham.

Another former AIM member, Arlo Looking Cloud, was convicted of murder in 2004 for his role in Aquash's death and was sentenced to life in prison. He is now a government witness.

"This isn't a turf battle. This is a cooperative investigation of federal, state and local authorities. This isn't a deal where we're trying to snatch somebody's case," said Jackley, who led the federal efforts to prosecute Graham and Marshall for three years as U.S. attorney.

Brenner said there is no statute of limitations on the state charges against Graham and Rios. The case should be simpler than in the federal system because prosecutors must merely prove if a crime was committed, he said.

"We do not have any of the blood line or tribal issues," Brenner said of Graham's federal case.

Defense lawyers for Graham and Marshall did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment. Rios made her first court appearance Thursday and did not have a lawyer. Federal prosecutors declined to comment about the new charges.

One of Aquash's daughters, Denise Maloney Pictou, said by phone from Nova Scotia that she's glad the case is proceeding.

"To me, it's always as long as the wheels are turning that's all that matters to our family, that there's movement," she said.

Aquash suspected of being an informant
Prosecutors believe Aquash was killed because AIM leaders suspected her of being a government informant. Prosecutors and government witnesses have said she was not.

Witnesses said Looking Cloud, Graham and Theda Clarke, another AIM member, drove Aquash from Denver to Rapid City. Prosecutors say Graham raped Aquash at Rios' apartment, and that he later shot her using a gun and ammunition provided by Marshall.

Clarke, who is in her mid-80s and lives in a nursing home in western Nebraska, has not been charged, though she is a material witness. Her lawyer filed a motion to quash a subpoena, saying she is incompetent to testify due to various medical and age-related ailments.

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 Indian tribes. The group grabbed headlines in 1973 when it took over the village of Wounded Knee, leading to a 71-day standoff with federal agents that included the exchange of gunfire.