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Burdened by murder

Speculation over who killed Anna Mae Pictou Aquash has raged since her murder in 1975. Now her accused killer, John Graham -- in an exclusive interview with The Province -- reveals for the first time what he did in the days before her murder -- and what the FBI knew but refused to admit. Later this week, his accusers speak out.

The Province
Monday, January 26, 2004
By Suzanne Fournier

John Graham says it pains him to be accused of the murder of a Canadian Indian whose death 27 years ago on a South Dakota reservation made her a martyr.

"It hurts," said Graham, in the East Vancouver home where he's been under house arrest since he was bailed out of jail Jan. 16.

"It hurts a lot, not just the way she died, that the FBI tried to cover up her death, but to be myself under a cloud of suspicion."

Graham was 20 in December 1975 when Anna Mae Pictou Aquash was shot in the back of the head and crawled away to die in the snow on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.

Now Graham, a soft-spoken aboriginal- rights activ- ist, his long black hair pulled back in a ponytail, is 48 and the father of eight children.

He was arrested Dec. 2 by Vancouver police on a U.S. warrant charging him and a homeless alcoholic named Arlo Looking Cloud with first-degree murder of Aquash.

Graham, a Yukon member of the Champagne Aishihik band, said he was drawn to the American Indian Movement in the early 1970s. He met Aquash, a Nova Scotia Mik'maq and native rights organizer in 1973 when he went to Minneapolis, Minn. to help out in Indian-operated schools.

John Graham, AIM activist accused of the murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, is under house arrest at a Vancouver home.
CREDIT: Les Bazso, The Province

Anna Mae Pictou Aquash
Graham said he liked and respected Aquash. "She really impressed me. She was continuously busy but always had time for the students."

In late 1973, Aquash joined AIM leaders in the occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D. and later he and Aquash worked together on the defence of AIM leaders.

After Leonard Pelletier was accused of the murders of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge reservation on June 26, 1975, Aquash and Graham worked together again.
Under pressure from the FBI in the aftermath of the killings, Aquash, who was living in Denver, asked Graham to take her to the Pine Ridge reserve.

"She was very scared and nervous," said Graham. "She was being hunted by the FBI. She needed somebody she could trust to travel with her to Pine Ridge."
Graham emphatically denies, as his accusers say, that he was asked by AIM leaders to execute Aquash because they believed FBI "lies" that she was an informer.

"I never met with any AIM people," he said. "Anna Mae was afraid of (FBI agent David) Price, who had tried to get her to testify against Pelletier and others, telling her that if she didn't, she'd be dead within six months.

(In 1976 after Aquash's murder, Pelletier, a native American, was extradited to the U.S. on the basis of an affidavit from Myrtle Poor Bear. Her evidence was later revealed as perjury when she confessed she'd never met Pelletier but had been told by FBI's Price that she would be killed like Aquash unless she testified against Pelletier.)

Graham says he and Looking Cloud drove Aquash to a "safe house" on the Pine Ridge reservation.

Looking Cloud, who goes on trial next month in Rapid City, S.D., says it was there that Graham shot Aquash in the head.

Aquash's frozen body was found the following February. Price attended the autopsy where Aquash was declared a "Jane Doe" who had died of exposure.
Price requested that her hands be cut off and sent to Washington for prints, a highly irregular procedure.

It wasn't until Aquash's family in Canada demanded her body be exhumed that a bullet was found in her cheekbone.

"To me, the way the FBI handled the whole thing, saying she died of exposure, they were just trying to cover up," says Graham. "Price knew her very well and could have identified her.

"Price wrote a description of Anna Mae in his notebook, her body marks, jewelry, rings, even her jacket label.

"Cutting her hands off like that," says Graham quietly, "I figure that was the FBI confirming their kill."

Graham will be back in court on Wednesday when Crown prosecutor Deborah Strachan, representing the U.S., will apply to have him returned him to jail.

The U.S. evidence against Graham will be examined at an extradition hearing to see whether a prima-facie case exists.

That worries Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president Stewart Phillip.
"I support Anna Mae's family in their quest to get a fair trial and find their mother's killers," he said.

"But I supported Leonard Pelletier and I was appalled that Canada extradited him on the basis of perjured evidence.

"I have no reason whatsoever to trust the U.S. government so if an examination of the case against John Graham can be achieved on Canadian soil, then that is what must happen."

Aquash's two daughters, Denise Maloney and RCMP Const. Debbie Pictou Maloney, who once worked with troubled eastside Vancouver youth, have lobbied to bring their mother's killers to justice.

They oppose Graham's release on bail.

Copyright 2004 The Province