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Looking Cloud trial raises questions

Indian Country Today
February 12, 2004 at 2:53pm EST

By David Melmer

RAPID CITY, S.D. - The guilty verdict of Arlo Looking Cloud and how it was reached has led to discussions about justice in South Dakota and the United States.

John Graham, living in Vancouver, B.C., is also charged in the death of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash. Graham is under house arrest and faces an extradition hearing.

"I was shocked the trial went as far as it did. I was shocked the judge didnít stop it," John Graham said.

"They pulled a number on (Looking Cloud). Thatís publicized distortion from the start. There is no justice for activists in South Dakota.

"It was a typical South Dakota kangaroo court. What happened to Arlo proves there is no chance of a fair trial in the U.S.," Graham said. Graham has pleaded not guilty to the charge of first degree murder and has always maintained his innocence.

In a telephone interview with Indian Country Today Graham said he did not know Looking Cloud very well, had met him on Dec. 10 in Denver, yet prayed for him.

"He doesnít have a clue what happened to him, other than he may spend his life in prison," Graham said.

Graham said he drove Pictou-Aquash from Denver to Pine Ridge and then dropped her off. Different from what was brought out by witnesses at the trial. Graham also said he didnít know why his name kept coming up. "Some guy said that if you shake the AIM tree my name comes up."

Graham said Looking Cloud was coached by others to tell a story the way he did. "I believe Arlo was told what to say."

Graham said he was approached by the FBI in 1988 to reveal the names of the higher AIM leaders that may have been involved. He refused. He said they offered him immunity and could be put in the witness protection program. "I didnít know anything, why would I need to be protected," he asked.

Graham said he and Pictou-Aquash were in Cedar Rapids, Iowa attending Crow Dogís trial at the time of the June 26, 1975 killing of the two FBI agents. The two went back to Oglala to help people out. "I know she wasnít an agent. You donít go openly back into that if you were. We were concerned about Grandpa and Grandma Jumping Bull and there were kids in there."

He said the same mentality that was present at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, when the 7th Cavalry was involved in killing nearly 300 Lakota, was in retaliation for the Battle at the Little Big Horn. "This is the same mentality," he said.

"The FBI is trying to weld the door shut on Leonard (Peltier)."

Graham and Pictou-Aquash met in Minneapolis at the Red School House run by AIM. He said the two went to the Farmington, N.M. national convention of AIM, and that they were good friends.

What was missing from the Looking Cloud trial, he said, was a knowledge of the atmosphere in South Dakota at the time. "It was shocking to me at the time. I thought it only happened in the movies."

He said he was hopeful that a legal team could help Looking Cloud with an appeal.

"There is a feeling in Johnís legal team; they canít believe the case against Looking Cloud," said Mathew Lien of the John Graham Defense Committee.

Terry LaLiberteí, extradition attorney for Graham, said after the trial and verdict Looking Cloud received, "we will have to work harder to keep my client from extradition to the U.S.

"The verdict was appalling. From the type of evidence I see, it was appalling."

Lien said the Looking Cloud trial demonstrated that to allow Graham to stand trial in the United States was "out of the question."

Looking Cloud family members have contacted the Graham defense committee and others to ask for help with a legal appeals team for Looking Cloud. Tim Rensch, Looking Cloudís court-appointed attorney has come under criticism for not mounting a credible defense for his client.

LaLiberteí said he didnít think there would be any shortage of lawyers who would be willing to take the case.

"The people who have worked on Johnís team have a pretty good idea of what the truth looks like. What happened in the Looking Cloud trial is not the truth," Lien said

"If the FBI could have their ultimate case, they would want some bad Indians to take the fall for Anna Maeís death," Lien said.

The four day Looking Cloud trial, Lien said, provides the Graham Defense team with some insight about the governmentís approach.

During the Looking Cloud trial Graham was named as the trigger man numerous times by persons who repeated what they said was the story told to them by Looking Cloud.

Yet the John Graham Defense Committee will help form a legal appeals team for Looking Cloud. "Why help him when he implicated John?" Lien said. "We donít believe he intended to implicate John."

LaLiberteí said that Looking Cloud was convicted on the lack of forensic evidence. "It was some type of innuendo," that convicted Looking Cloud.

He said the transcript of the trial would be important to juxtapose the testimony of the various witnesses.

Should the extradition process work favorably for Graham he could be tried in Canada, something his legal team, friends and many residents of Canada want to see. He is a Canadian living in Canada and charged with the murder of another Canadian, Lien said.

Graham implied that the FBI doesnít want the truth to come out. He said that more information about the first autopsy should be revealed. He also mentioned that all the same agents and players today were around Oglala, including Robert Ecoffey.

"I feel now, more than ever, that John must not be extradited. This feeling is based on all that has gone on in the Dakotas with respect to the Leonard Peltier trial, and now the trial of Arlo Looking Cloud, which shows that a conviction can be achieved on unreliable hearsay with so many discrepancies," said Jennifer Wade, Amnesty International for British Columbia.

The bar has been lowered for extradition to the United States since 9/11. The Graham case has drawn some high level legal people to the case to use it as a means to challenge the constitutionality of the new extradition laws, Lien said.

Lien said the Canadian courts saw fit to trust Graham and let him out of jail pending the extradition hearing. Graham walks from his home to a police station in Vancouver, B.C. every day. He enjoys the long walk, because he is joined by friends and residents who support him.


© Copyright Indian Country Today 2004