Murder trial begins in 1975 death of Pine Ridge Indian
RAPID CITY, S.D. - A jury was seated Tuesday afternoon in the federal trial of Arlo Looking Cloud, one of two men charged in the 1975 slaying of American Indian activist Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash. Lawyers then began their opening statements.
Looking Cloud and John Graham are accused of first-degree murder in the execution-style killing of Aquash, whose frozen body was found on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in February 1976.
Federal agents have investigated the case for years but have not been able to crack it. They arrested Looking Cloud on March 27 in Denver but have not said what evidence brought them to Looking Cloud.
Graham was arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia, in December and is free on bond. He has said he will fight extradition to the United States.
Ninety-one potential jurors arrived for jury duty Tuesday morning. Because there were so many, spectators watched jury selection through closed circuit television in a different room.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol, of Sioux Falls, questioned potential jurors throughout the day. He asked about possible scheduling conflicts, hobbies, and memberships in religious and other organizations.
He also wanted to know whether they were familiar with the case and if they could give Looking Cloud a fair trial because he is an American Indian and was a member of the American Indian Movement.
One white man was excused when he said he couldn't set aside his opinion about AIM. Another man, an American Indian, was excused when he said the system was biased against Looking Cloud.
A member of the Mi'kmaq Tribe of Canada, Pictou-Aquash came to Pine Ridge in the early 1970s when the American Indian Movement was gaining strength.
She participated in the 1973 occupation of the village of Wounded Knee, a 71-day standoff between AIM activists and federal agents.
Looking Cloud and Graham worked security at AIM events in the 1970s.
In late 1975, Aquash disappeared from a Denver home where she had been staying.
Some speculate AIM members killed her because she knew some of them were government spies. Others said Aquash was killed because she herself was an informant.
Federal authorities and AIM leaders have denied any involvement.
Looking Cloud, a Lakota who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation, faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted.
During the trial Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Jim McMahon read a list of about 20 possible witnesses that the prosecution might call. Tim Rensch, Looking Cloud's lawyer, listed six potential witnesses. One of them may be Looking Cloud, Rensch said.
Some former and current AIM members attended the trial on Tuesday,
including Russell Means and Vernon Bellecourt.
© Copyright Associated Press (AP) 2004