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Old 02-06-2004, 08:34 AM   #1
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Ring of truth at AIM murder trial

Rocky Mountain News

Ring of truth at AIM murder trial
Prosecution, defense seek to sway jury on Indian's role in killing

By Joe Garner, Rocky Mountain News
February 6, 2004

RAPID CITY, S.D. - The silver filigree ring was a silent scream for help.

But Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, the American Indian activist who slipped it off her finger and mailed it from Denver as a sign she was in danger, did not try to flee her killers.

Rumored to be an FBI informant against other members of the American Indian Movement, Pictou- Aquash was kidnapped from a Pecos Street house in Denver and taken to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1975 to be executed after a kangaroo court condemned her.

During months on the run, when her anger about being labeled a snitch or "pig" turned to fear for her safety, she mailed her ring to a friend. The friend contacted John Trudell, then the spokesman for AIM, who recognized the ring as a prearranged code.

"Then I would know someone wasn't just playing games with her," Trudell testified Thursday in the trial of one of two former AIM members charged with first-degree murder in Pictou-Aquash's death by a single gunshot to the back of her head.

Arlo Looking Cloud, 52, a Denver drifter who was arrested last March, faces a mandatory life sentence if the federal jury hearing the case finds him guilty. The jury is scheduled to begin deliberations today.

Suspect fighting extradition

John Boy Graham, the other man charged in the slaying, was known as John Boy Patton while living off and on in Denver. Graham, who is about 50, was arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia.

He is free on bond while activists raise money for his defense at rallies, including one set for tonight in San Francisco. He has vowed to fight extradition to the U.S.

Law enforcement authorities, Indians and civil rights activists who came of age during the politically turbulent 1960s and 1970s are following this week's trial to see how it may tarnish the idealistic image of the American Indian Movement by revealing a raw underside of suspicion, treachery and lawlessness.

According to witnesses, the two men and a female member of the Denver AIM chapter, Theda Clark, bound Pictou-Aquash's hands and forced her into the rear of a red Pinto for an all-night ride to her death in the Badlands. Clark, now about 80, is living in a nursing home.

But Trudell, who left the Indian movement in about 1980, laid the blame for the slaying on AIM leaders, whom he would not name.

"John Boy, Arlo and Theda were not decision-makers," Trudell testified. "They did what they were told."

On Dec. 10, 1975, after Pictou-Aquash was delivered to South Dakota from Denver, AIM members reportedly held a daylong meeting at the offices of the Wounded Knee Legal Defense/Offense Committee and determined her fate.

But witnesses testified that the AIM members gathered at the converted Rapid City house likely received orders from higher-ups.

A day or so later, witnesses said, the three Denver AIM members again loaded the 30-year-old Pictou-Aquash into the Pinto and drove onto the Pine Ridge Reservation, turning north on South Dakota 73, and stopping at an embankment above a steep ravine. All four got out of the car, Pictou-Aquash pleaded for her life, the trigger was pulled and, witnesses said, the three other Indians headed back to Denver as dawn brightened the cold sky.

"When they left that house, they knew she was going to be killed," Trudell testified.

Activist not an FBI informant

Other Indians and Anglo activists who saw her in Denver and in South Dakota testified that the beautiful, outspoken Pictou-Aquash never asked for help and never tried to flee her captors.

Trying to silence the swirling rumors and prove she had not betrayed her people, Pictou-Aquash martyred herself by allowing AIM members to lead her to her death, witnesses said.

She never was an FBI informant, although she did seem to receive special treatment from those in law enforcement, said author Antoinette Nora Claypoole.

Claypoole, an observer at the trial, wrote the 1999 biography, Who Would Unbraid Her Hair: The Legend of Annie Mae.

Claypoole said her research found that AIM members who later were revealed as snitches spread rumors that Pictou-Aquash was giving information to the FBI. The feds allegedly were behind the rumors, a tactic they used to attempt to get her to become an informant, she said. But Pictou-Aquash remained loyal to the Indian people to her death, Claypoole said.

David Price, an FBI agent based in Rapid City in the 1970s, testified that Pictou-Aquash never was cultivated as an informant. Price was the single defense witness before testimony ended Thursday.

Several prosecution witnesses repeated that Looking Cloud, a vagrant with a lengthy Denver record of crime and alcoholism, gave varying accounts over the decades about his role in the crime, usually saying he did not know that Pictou-Aquash was to be killed until Graham shot her point blank and pushed her body into the ravine.

Outside the courtroom, Trudell said he gave Pictou-Aquash's silver filigree ring to a young Indian woman years ago.

"I won't tell you who she is, but I can find her," he said, describing how he wanted her and the ring to have a fresh start - away from the distrust and tragedies that marked the early years of AIM and that have caused some younger Indians to disown the organization.

Copyright 2004, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.
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Old 02-06-2004, 08:41 AM   #2
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Jury to get Looking Cloud case


By Heidi Bell Gease, Journal Staff Writer


RAPID CITY -- After two days of testimony, the U.S. government rested its case in the murder trial of Arlo Looking Cloud on Thursday afternoon.

One witness and 10 minutes later, the defense rested its case as well.

Defense attorney Tim Rensch then asked that his client be acquitted, saying prosecutors had prejudiced the jury against his client by introducing much testimony about the American Indian Movement that predated his client's involvement.

"I think that put him at a disadvantage before this jury," he said.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence L. Piersol denied the request, and closing arguments in the case will begin at 10 a.m. today.

Looking Cloud is charged in the 1975 murder of AIM activist Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash. A co-defendant, John Graham, also known as John Boy Patton, is free on bond in Canada and fighting extradition.

Throughout the trial, which began Tuesday, the prosecution's case has repeatedly suggested that AIM higher-ups made the decision to kill Pictou-Aquash, who was rumored to be a government informant. Although witness testimony carried observers to the edge of that theory, it left them to reach their own conclusions.

John Trudell, AIM's national chairman from 1973 to 1979, was a friend of Pictou-Aquash. He testified that in 1988, Looking Cloud told him how he, Graham, and Theda Clark drove Pictou-Aquash from Denver to Rapid City, where Pictou-Aquash was to be questioned about being an informant.

Under cross-examination, Trudell acknowledged that Looking Cloud hadn't said he wanted Pictou-Aquash to die.

"The impression that I got was that he didn't know what the end result was going to be. I will say that," he said. "But it happened, and he played his role."

Trudell said he believed the group left Rosebud with orders to kill Pictou-Aquash. "See, after they left that house, I don't know about surprise anymore, because somebody said to do this," he said. "John Boy and Arlo and Theda, they weren't decision makers. They did what they were told."

Candy Hamilton, who moved to South Dakota in 1973 to help with the Wounded Knee Legal Defense/Offense Committee, was in Rapid City the night Pictou-Aquash was brought from Denver. She spent the night in Rapid City, and the next day went to the Allen Street house that served as committee - or WKLDOC - headquarters.

Hamilton testified that she saw attorney Bruce Ellison, Ted and Laurelei Means, Clyde Bellecourt, Madonna Gilbert and others at the WKLDOChouse, where they were apparently meeting behind closed doors.

Hamilton also saw Pictou-Aquash briefly. "She had been crying," Hamilton said. "She appeared very unhappy."

Hamilton later left for Sioux Falls - where she was to testify at AIM leader Russell Means' trial in connection with the Custer courthouse riot earlier that year - with Clyde Bellecourt, Ted Means, Webster Poor Bear and another man. She said they stopped at Bill Means' house in Rosebud, where she waited in the car.

On cross-examination, Rensch established that Hamilton and Pictou-Aquash were alone in the kitchen at the WKLDOC house, which had a back door. Yet Pictou-Aquash never tried to leave or ask for help, Rensch affirmed.

One of Pictou-Aquash's two daughters, Denise Maloney Pictou, also testified Thursday, telling how Looking Cloud contacted the sisters in 2002. "He was very emotional and said that he felt bad that he hadn't done it a long time ago," she said.

She said Looking Cloud told them he thought they were just out to scare Pictou-Aquash. He also said he stayed with the car while Clark and Graham took Pictou-Aquash out and shot her.

That differed from other versions of the story. Another witness, Richard Two Elk, testified that he had spoken with Looking Cloud about the murder at least a half-dozen times and that Looking Cloud once described handing the gun to Graham as the two walked Pictou-Aquash up the hill to her death.

But when questioned, Two Elk couldn't say when or where the conversations took place or what was said. When Rensch noted that Two Elk has said Looking Cloud "consistently told him the same thing over the years," a confusing exchange resulted, with Two Elk describing how he had had repeated conversations with Looking Cloud, "but the answers are often different. ... All the different answers are consistently the same."

Rensch suggested that Two Elk hates AIM leadership and wanted to make AIM look bad, a claim Two Elk denied.

There were other suggestions of inconsistencies in Looking Cloud's stories, or perhaps in his memory. Prosecutors played a videotape of an interview that Robert Ecoffey, now deputy director for the Department of Law Enforcement Services for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Albuquerque, N.M., conducted with Looking Cloud in Denver in March 2003.

On the tape, Looking Cloud says he doesn't remember stopping in Allen before taking Pictou-Aquash to Rosebud.

On Thursday, though, Cleo Gates testified that Looking Cloud, Graham, Clark and Pictou-Aquash came to the Allen home she shared with then-husband Dick Marshall one night in December 1975. "They brought the girl in, and she sat on a chair in the living room, and they went into the bedroom with my husband," Gates said. When Marshall came out, he said they wanted the couple to keep Pictou-Aquash at their house.

"I said no," Gates said, because she had heard the rumors about Pictou-Aquash. "I didn't want to be any part of it."

Also on the tape, Looking Cloud denied that AIM leader Vernon Bellecourt ever visited him after the murder, although Ecoffey tells Looking Cloud he has a witness who says otherwise.

(Bellecourt, who attended the first two days of the trial, was not in the courtroom Thursday.)

Early on in the video, Looking Cloud maintained that he didn't know what was going to happen to Pictou-Aquash. "I thought they weren't going to do it," he said, "But he did."

The defense called its first and only witness, FBI Special Agent David Price, at 4:20 p.m.

Price testified that during the 1970s, his job included cultivating informants, people who would tell or warn agents of crimes being committed.

Price said he did cultivate informants within AIM. He also said he had met Pictou-Aquash twice, once in April 1975 at a home near Oglala and again on Sept. 5, 1975, on Rosebud Indian Reservation.

"At any of those points, did you attempt to cultivate her as an informant?" Rensch asked.

"No, sir," Price said, although he did ask her about a murder that had taken place on the reservation.

Price testified that "very few" FBI informants were involved with AIM in 1975. "The informants were advising of crimes and not about the American Indian Movement," he said. "They advised of fugitives; they'd advise of things like that. Crimes."

Contact Heidi Bell Gease at 394-8419 or [email protected]
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