Group fights accused's extradition
Supporters want Canadian Indian's murder trial held here, not in the U.S.
March 7, 2004
By Peter Worthington
A continuing puzzle in the 1975 murder of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, is the apparent reluctance of the Canadian government to extradite the guy charged with pulling the trigger of the gun that killed the attractive Indian woman and mother of two.
"John Boy" Graham has been released on $25,000 bail pending the extradition hearings - a startlingly low amount for a first-degree murder charge.
Even odder is that a John Graham Defense Committee (www.grahamdefense.org) has been set up to oppose his extradition.
The JGDC is headed by Graham's friend Matthew Lien of Whitehorse, Yukon. He is a gifted composer, producer and performer who specializes in aboriginal music and culture and has recorded six respected albums (www.matthewlien.com). Lien describes himself as an "activist" who is convinced of Graham's innocence.
The JFDC insists: "We all grieve the tragic loss of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash and hope the truth about her death will some day be known." At the same time, it opposes Graham's extradition because, "We are also absolutely convinced of John's innocence and believe this charge to be a continuation of the travesty of justice ... "
How to balance these contradictory "hopes" - justice for Anna Mae, but no extradition of Graham, who was a "security guard" with the American Indian Movement (AIM) when Anna Mae was killed 28 years ago?
In February, Arlo Looking Cloud was convicted in Rapid City, S.D. of being involved in Anna Mae's murder. He "confessed" to being in the car that carried her from Denver, Col., to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where she was executed. In a videotaped confession, Arlo said John Boy had done the shooting.
I phoned Matthew Lien in Whitehorse. He's 38, has known Graham since childhood, and grew up listening to Graham's tales of Leonard Peltier and the Indian cause he espoused.
"I am absolutely convinced John could never kill anyone," he told me.
Lien opposes extradition to South Dakota, "because the record shows South Dakota is not a good venue for an Indian to go on trial." (A valid observation.)
Nova Scotian victim
"We are not opposed to a trial in Canada, where the truth of what happened to Anna Mae can come out. After all, John is a Canadian Indian charged with murdering another Canadian Indian (from Nova Scotia) so it seems appropriate to hold the trial in Canada where justice might be more certain."
It's an interesting proposal.
Lien thinks Anna Mae's murder has suddenly become an issue after 28 years because the FBI and U.S. justice system want to ensure Peltier is never paroled.
"They want to weld the prison doors shut on him," says Lien.
Peltier is in his 28th year of two life sentences, convicted for the murder of FBI agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams during a 1975 range war at Pine Ridge. Sixty Indians were killed over three years, with no investigations.
Pressure is growing to parole or pardon Peltier. More than 28 years in prison is enough for a crime for which there was tenuous proof and lots of politics.
There was so much lying, deceit, fabrication and coercion by the FBI that for years it raised doubts about Peltier's conviction.
He was extradited from Canada in 1976 on the basis of a false affidavit dictated by the FBI.
At Looking Cloud's trial, there was testimony that AIM leaders, including Peltier, were involved in the execution of Anna Mae on grounds she was a suspected FBI informer, and/or that she had heard Peltier boast how he killed the FBI agents at close range while they begged for mercy.
If Peltier can be shown to have been involved in Anna Mae's execution, he could face additional charges that would ensure he'd never be freed - an admitted goal of the FBI.
I've met Peltier three times in Leavenworth prison and believe that based on the evidence presented at his original trial, he was framed for the murder of the FBI agents. That said, it's always possible he was guilty of those murders and the FBI framed him anyway. In any event, it seems apparent the U.S. justice system is waging a vendetta against him.
If so, why not a trial in Canada for Anna Mae's alleged murderer, as Lien suggests?
U.S. prosecutor Jim McMahon's response: "We're looking forward to a visit by Mr. Graham to South Dakota."
As for Graham, the JGDC is raising money. For $50, you can buy a black T-shirt that is inscribed: "Free John Graham, don't let the Canadian government extradite another innocent man."
Graham has called the Looking Cloud trial a "kangaroo court" and proof that he wouldn't get a fair trial in the U.S.
An oddity in the Looking Cloud trial is that his lawyer called only one witness - former FBI special agent David Price, who said he recruited informers in 1975, but Anna Mae wasn't one of them.
He astounded the court by keeping Price on the stand for only 10 minutes - forfeiting, in the view of many observers, an opportunity to uncover a lot of what the FBI was up to against the Lakota Indians at Pine Ridge in 1975.
© Copyright Toronto Sun 2004