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Four-day trial leaves more questions than answers

Monday, February 9, 2004


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The much-anticipated trial of Arlo Looking Cloud, a Native American man charged with the murder of a Canadian aboriginal woman, Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, concluded Friday, February 6th, with a verdict of "guilty".

The body of the native rights activist and member of the American Indian Movement was found on February 24, 1976, lying in a ravine in rural South Dakota. It was first ruled to be death by exposure, and later determined that she had suffered a bullet wound to the head.

The trial left more questions than answers, and for some a sense of disbelief that such a historic case could resolve so quickly.

"My concern with the trial is that it covers a murder which happened 28 years ago, and only required three days of testimony," said Bob Newbrook, a retired police officer who was involved with the arrest of Leonard Peltier. "If we thought the court would be a crucible for truth, we were very much mistaken."

"It was a typical South Dakota kangaroo court," said John Graham, the co- accused in this case. Graham has always maintained his innocence. He is living in Vancouver under house arrest, fighting extradition to the U.S. "What happened to Arlo proves there is no chance of a fair trial in the U.S."

Looking Cloud's public defense attorney, Tim Rensch, called only one witness during the trial - FBI Special Agent David Price - who he questioned for a mere ten minutes to counter the Prosecution's 23 witnesses.

While Looking Cloud entered a plea of "not guilty", his Defense chose not to challenge the validity of Looking Clouds alleged confessions, which witnesses recounted with frequent contradictions. The Defense asserted that while he admitted to being present at the crime scene, he was unaware that Anna Mae would be murdered and was therefore not responsible for her death.

"I was approached by Vernon Bellecourt and Arlo Looking Cloud's family to get into this case," said well-known attorney Terry Gilbert of the Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York. "They were unhappy with the local lawyer for a number of reasons, principally because he admitted that his client was present when Anna Mae's murder took place, and told the press this.

"There were few motions and no competency motion," observed Gilbert. "Looking Cloud was a homeless alcoholic for more than 20 years and vulnerable to manipulation by the detective in Denver who was trying to make this case. I wrote Judge Pearsoll and offered to be appointed as co-counsel. He refused."

Looking Cloud did not take the stand at any time during the trial. A videotaped confession was played, during which Looking Cloud admitted to being under the influence of alcohol.

An FBI agent who was among the first at the crime scene testified that the body was found clothed in moccasins and a dress. This caused the Prosecution to interject, reminding their own witness that the body was found wearing blue jeans. The agent said he must have been mistaken.

Of the 23 witnesses called by the Prosecution, most simply recounted contradictory versions of Looking Cloud's alleged confessions.

One recounting described Arlo driving to the scene of the crime but staying in the car, while another described Arlo walking to where Anna Mae was allegedly shot. Other versions described Anna Mae as being tied up, while videotaped testimony showed Arlo flatly denying she had been tied up at all.

Anna Mae's eldest daughter, Denise Maloney, testified that in April 2002, she had received a phone call from Richard Two Elk who was the first person to claim hearing Looking Cloud's confession. Two Elk presented himself as Looking Cloud's brother. Paul DeMain, a journalist, allegedly vouched for Two Elk and convinced Maloney to hear Looking Cloud's confession, who was then put in the phone.

The Looking Cloud trial revealed, however, that Two Elk was not Arlo's brother. Two Elk's inconsistent and hostile testimony appeared to bring little value to the Prosecution's case, and at times inspired outright laughter from the gallery.

Another highly anticipated witness was Kamook Banks, the ex-wife of prominent American Indian Movement (AIM) activist Dennis Banks. Her testimony was barely relevant to Arlo Looking Cloud, instead condemning Leonard Peltier for allegedly bragging that he had killed two FBI agents during an earlier conflict between the FBI and members of the American Indian Movement.

The Prosecution asserted her testimony was required to demonstrate the knowledge Anna Mae possessed about the AIM leadership, thus showing motive for their ordering her execution.

Upon cross examination, however, it was revealed that Kamook Banks had received $42,000.00 (USD) from the FBI to assist in building their case.

In a news release on February 7th, 2004, Barry Bachrach, the attorney representing Leonard Peltier asked, "Who was on trial? The majority of the testimony presented had nothing whatsoever to do with Arlo Looking Cloud, but prominent members of the American Indian Movement.

"There was not one iota of proof presented to support many witnesses' 'beliefs'. And for every witness presented, there are any number of other individuals who could be called to appear and who would tell very different stories," he stated.

"The public didn't hear about the shoddy investigation the FBI conducted into the death of Anna Mae Aquash, either. It took them 28 years to bring someone - anyone - to trial? The FBI is better than that. Everybody knows it."

The trial did serve as evidence to John Graham and his supporters that the FBI is continuing its campaign to brutalize and incarcerate members of the American Indian Movement, perhaps in an effort to cover up their own complicity in crimes of the past.

"I feel now, more than ever, that John must not be extradited," said Jennifer Wade, a well-known human rights advocate and founding member of BC's Amnesty International. "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."

In light of the Looking Cloud trial, the John Graham Defense Committee and the Friends of John Graham are jointly calling upon Canada's Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler to stop extradition procedures against John Graham.

They are also calling for a complete and independent investigation into the FBI's involvement in the death of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, and the scores of malicious deaths in and around the Pine Ridge Reservation which remain uninvestigated.

More information on John Graham and the defense committee can be found at their website, www.grahamdefense.org.

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For more information contact:

Matthew Lien, John Graham Defense Committee
(867) 633-3513

Joni Miller, Friends of John Graham