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Looking Cloud guilty

Indian Country Today
February 09, 2004
By David Melmer

RAPID CITY, S.D. - An impassioned closing argument from Defense Attorney Tim Rensch, did not sway the seven women and five men of the jury from returning a guilty verdict in the death of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash in 1975.

Looking Cloud was convicted of murder or aiding and abetting a murder after seven hours of deliberation by the jury. Sentencing will take place on April 23.

The defense claimed from the very beginning of the trial that Looking Cloud was in the wrong place at the wrong time. His defense centered on the fact that while he helped take Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash from Denver to South Dakota where she was ultimately killed on a lonely stretch of road in the desolate Badlands that he was surprised at what happened, and had no knowledge that an assassination would be the outcome.

The prosecution claimed that Looking Cloud had knowledge of the possible fate of Pictou-Aquash from the very beginning.

"One of those two people pulled the trigger, the other is guilty because they helped every step of the way, in legalize, itís called aiding and abetting," said Jim McMahon, U.S. Attorney.

He referred to the incident as it happened on or about Dec. 12, 1975 when Pictou-Aquash was taken to a remote section of the badlands, shot in the back of the head and dumped over a cliff.

"Present at the killing were the defendant, John Boy Patton or John Graham, Theda Clark and Anna Mae Aquash.

"Three people get out of the car, Arlo, John Boy and Anna Mae Aquash. From the edge of the road to the edge of cliff is 100 feet, itís dark, with uneven terrain, they have to negotiate to the edge of cliff with someone tied up, that had to take a couple of minutes.

"During that two minutes, she was begging and pleading not to be killed she was telling them she did nothing wrong, Ďwhat is going to happen to my two daughters?í At the edge of the cliff, she asks to pray then sheís shot in back of her head.

"You donít need to go further than right there in this case," McMahon said at closing arguments.

He asserted that the incident constituted premeditated murder.

In final arguments Rensch pointed out to the jury that if it were true that the case needed go any further than the cliff on which Pictou-Aquash was killed, "we would have heard only what went on at that cliff.

"We didnít start out with that. Think back on the opening. You heard how terrible the American Indian Movement was, the riots, planting bombs at power plants, how they could have been bombed how this came from Peltier or some theory that aim leadership put this in motion," Rensch said.

The prosecution told the jury that over the years Looking Cloud changed his statements in order to distance himself from the incident; that he made up the story about who gave who the gun when Pictou-Aquash was killed, all to put the blame on someone else.

Following the verdict reaction from an overflow crowd in the courtroom, which consisted of most American Indian supporters, was of disbelief.

Martha Featherman, Looking Cloudís aunt, in a wheelchair, broke down sobbing and held her hand out to Looking Cloud as he was taken from the court room in handcuffs. Featherman attended every minute of the trial.

Looking Cloud, as was his demeanor throughout the trial, looked forward, never showed emotion, but when put in handcuffs looked very shaken.

"The prejudice against the American Indian Movement had nothing to do with the case. There are grounds for appeal," Rensch said. When questioned he said he would appeal the verdict.

The comments from those who attended the trial and stayed to hear the verdict was of disbelief. The most heard comment was about justice in South Dakota.

"It was not real surprising," said Sam Gardipe, Oglala from Pine Ridge.

"Typical American justice in a South Dakota Courtroom," said Robert Quiver, Oglala from Pine Ridge

Elder Joe American Horse said "he was not capable of doing that, itís not part of the culture."

"The poor gentle soul was in the wrong way at the wrong time. We will see indictments of more people in this senseless killing of Anna Mae Aquash," said Russell Means, AIM leader, actor and activist.

"I am disgusted and supremely disappointed that South Dakota has not reached out of neandrathism," Means said.


© Indian Country Today 2004