For 28 years the mystery of who killed Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, and why, has tormented law enforcement agencies, the American Indian movement, Anna Mae's family and friends and, peripherally, the Canadian government.
On Feb. 3, in Rapid City, South Dakota, Arlo Looking Cloud, a homeless Lakota (Sioux) Indian, a user of 20 aliases, goes on trial for the first-degree murder of Anna Mae on the Pine Ridge Reserve in December 1975.
Also charged, and awaiting extradition from Canada, is John Boy Graham, also known as John Boy Patton, who is alleged to have pulled the trigger of the handgun that killed Anna Mae.
Indications are that this trial will be sensational and controversial -- not only because of Anna Mae, but because testimony is expected that will name Leonard Peltier as one of those who endorsed Anna Mae's execution, and that he indeed did shoot and kill two FBI agents at point-blank range on June 26, 1975, at Pine Ridge.
Peltier is now in his 28th year of two life sentences in Leavenworth Prison, Kansas, for the murders of agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams, which he insists he didn't do. Many around the world feel he was framed.
I have visited Peltier three times in prison, and am persuaded that there is little evidence that he killed the agents. I have argued on his behalf because the case against him was replete with lies, fabrications, dishonesty and corruption.
Even judges have expressed dismay at the case.
At the Anna Mae trial in February, if credible witnesses who previously vouched for Peltier and believed his innocence now conclude that he's guilty, it will send shock waves around the world, where innumerable defence committees have lobbied for years on his behalf.
The likes of Nelson Mandela, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Robert Redford, the European Parliament, various Nobel laureates and political and human rights leaders have believed in his innocence and have urged presidential clemency.
Indeed, if Peltier really is guilty it means the FBI and U.S. justice system lied and corrupted evidence to convict a guilty man -- still a perversion of justice that undermines the law and values that democratic societies hold dear.
Under our system of jurisprudence, the end does not justify the means. The framing of suspects is wrong -- even of those who are proven guilty.
As for Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash's murder, over four years ago I identified three Indians who, as youths, kidnapped Anna Mae in Denver and took her to the Pine Ridge reserve where she was shot.
Two of those are now formally charged: Arlo Looking Cloud and John Boy Graham.
The latter is a Canadian who fled to the Yukon. He's now in custody in Vancouver and insists he is innocent of the kidnapping and murder charges.
Anna Mae's was one of 60 unsolved shooting deaths from 1973 to '76 in the Pine Ridge-Wounded Knee area, when militants from the American Indian Movement(AIM) waged war against the establishment.
It now turns out that a black civil rights worker, Ray Robinson, went to Wounded Knee in 1973 -- and disappeared. It seems he may have been suspected of being a police informer. This also may come out at the new trial.
AIM activists occupied Wounded Knee for 71 days in 1973. The 1975 range war at Pine Ridge culminated in the FBI agents being killed, as well as an Indian, Joe Killsright Stuntz, whose death was never investigated.
At the time, Indians felt their land was about to be expropriated for uranium development.
Anna Mae's story is sad and shameful.
A Micmac activist from Nova Scotia, she went to Wounded Knee to show solidarity with AIM. When the range war erupted at Pine Ridge in 1975, she headed there. Twice married, a mother of two daughters and a sometime model, Anna Mae at age 30 was intelligent, dynamic and aggressive. She had a relationship with AIM leader Dennis Banks and as an outsider invoked some resentment and jealousy.
The FBI more or less "invaded" Pine Ridge, questioned Anna Mae and apparently tried to recruit her as an informer. She refused to cooperate.
After the two FBI agents were killed during a gunfight at the Sitting Bull compound, Anna Mae was believed to know who had executed the agents, but refused to tell authorities. The rumour circulated -- was planted -- that she was an FBI informer.
According to Paul DeMain, founder and editor of the respected publication, News from Indian Country, an Indian (Doug Durham) who was eventually revealed as an FBI informant was the one who spread the word that Anna Mae was co-opted by the FBI. DeMain's digging on behalf of Leonard Peltier over the years won him the University of Oregon's 2003 Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism.
High-ranking AIM people are accused of ordering the murder of Anna Mae.
She was killed in mid-December 1975 and her frozen body was found two months later in the northeastern Badlands of the Pine Ridge reserve.
An FBI agent who had previously interrogated her (David Price) couldn't identify the body, which was classified as "Jane Doe." An autopsy ruled she died of "exposure." The FBI ordered her hands to be cut off and sent to Washington, D.C. for fingerprint identification.
She was buried in an unmarked grave.
The fingerprints confirmed the body was Anna Mae. Her family in Nova Scotia had her body exhumed and arranged for an independent autopsy which found she'd been shot in the back of the head with the bullet lodged in her cheek under her eye.
Some "death by exposure"!
Over the years, four grand juries couldn't reach a verdict. No one was talking, no one knew anything. A fifth grand jury last year indicted the two ex-AIM "soldiers."
U.S. Gov't 'the Enemy'
"There was a feeling of Lakota nationalism everywhere in those days," DeMain recalls. "The U.S. government was viewed as the enemy; those who had information about Anna Mae or Leonard kept silent."
In the mid-1990s, Denver police detective Abe Alonzo put ads in newspapers for information about Anna Mae's murder. Since she'd been kidnapped in Colorado and taken across the state line, it was a federal offence.
Alonzo's investigation coincided with a painstaking quest by Anna Mae's cousin, New Brunswick-born Robert Pictou-Branscombe, a winner of the Silver Star in Vietnam.
As well, DeMain and his newspaper launched a persistent probe. The names of the three Indians came up.
DeMain says -- and Alonzo confirmed -- that as youths the three were zealous members of AIM, and called themselves "warriors, or dog soldiers and wannabes. They wanted to make a name for themselves."
They forcibly brought Anna Mae from Denver to Rapid City to Pine Ridge, where she was ordered executed, according to the charges brought by U.S. prosecutor Robert Mandell after the fifth grand jury finished its deliberations.
Arlo Looking Cloud, now 49, apparently stayed in the car when the death sentence was passed. It is alleged that John Boy Graham was in the room with those who passed sentence, and that he executed Anna Mae in the Badlands of Pine Ridge while Anna Mae was on her knees praying.
Graham continues to insist he is innocent.
One shot was fired from a .32 revolver, and the killers left. Still alive, Anna Mae crawled for a distance, curled into a fetal position and died.
This will emerge at the February trial, along with accusations and testimony that have been bottled up for nearly three decades.
Why now? What's changed?
"It's a different time now," says DeMain. "A lot of those who were active in the past are older, have children, and wonder how they'd feel if their kids were murdered the way Anna Mae and Ray Robinson were, and no one would help the police find the murderers."
DeMain says one of Anna Mae's daughters is a police officer. Closure is one thing, truth and justice another.
As for the issue of Leonard Peltier, it's apparently well-known among Lakota what happened at the Jumping Bull compound that day, but everyone has refused to talk, imbued with a sense of Lakota nationalism, and the "code of silence."
"People like you and me believed Leonard was innocent," says DeMain. "But some witnesses with impeccable credentials now believe otherwise."
He says Peltier launched a $75,000 libel suit against him, but offered to withdraw it if he, DeMain, revealed his sources and gave access to his notes.
DeMain refused and nothing has come of the legal action.
It was the duplicitous actions of the FBI, police and justice people who undermined their case by framing Peltier -- fake affidavits; Myrtle Poor Bear's fabricated testimony dictated by the FBI that got Peltier extradited from Canada; false evidence about the murder weapon and the bullet; the FBI's subsequent admission they had "no idea" if Peltier fired the shots that killed Coler and Williams.
Some Indians know the truth; most of us don't.
History Of Treachery
What is irrefutable is that justice was perverted, and after 28 years in prison, even if he is guilty, a parole for Peltier would not be out of line. The 1970s were a time of dispute and controversy with Indians. Politics and paranoia ruled.
AIM has since moderated and splintered, Indians have a stronger voice now, and are taken seriously. A parole for Leonard Peltier would threaten no one.
In the 1970s, the Sioux of South Dakota had cause not to trust U.S. government's intentions or the FBI. After all, America's history with Indians is a long one of treachery and violating treaties that Indians mostly honoured.
As for Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, a memorial to her stands at Wounded Knee, and in Nova Scotia -- symbolic of one who was steadfast but betrayed by her own people, the FBI and her government.