Attorney General Marty Jackley Recounts the Investigation of the Murder of Annie Mae Aquash

On March 20, Attorney General, Marty Jackley gave a lecture at the University Center of Rapid City about the investigation and prosecutions in the murder case of Annie Mae Aquash. As lead prosecutor Jackley presented his perspective and personal opinion of the case to the audience. The hour and a half lecture on the Aquash murder included photographs and video clips all of which is public information. Jackley said “the case required the collaboration of the federal, state, local, and tribal authorities.” Over three decades of investigations and indictments led to the convictions of John Graham, Arlo Looking Glass, and Thelma Rios.

Annie Mae Aquash — originally from Canada — came to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota hoping to improve conditions. Aquash was a 30 year old high-ranking member of the American Indian Movement and an activist for human rights — especially the rights of women and Indians. She participated in the Custer Riot of 1973 and the Wounded Knee Incident of 1973.

While at The Crow Dog’s Paradise in September of 1975 Aquash was found to have a firearm. She was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. A jury trial was set for Nov. 24, 1975.

In October of 1975, Aquash and other AIM members — including Leonard Peltier, Dennis Banks and Kamook Banks — traveled to Oregon to attend an AIM event. During this trip two events occurred that led to Aquash’s murder. Peltier held Aquash at gun point and accused her of being a government informant. This paranoia of government informants within the American Indian Movement started in March of 1975 when Douglas Durham — an AIM member — was found to be an informant. Then Peltier confessed to Aquash and the others that he killed two FBI agents. Agents Williams and Coler were gunned down by Peltier on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on June 20, 1975. According to Jackley, Aquash’s knowledge of Peltier’s confession was part of the motive behind her execution.

When the group’s motor home was pulled over Aquash and Banks’ wife were arrested. Peltier and Banks escaped after a fire arm fight with highway patrol and fled to Canada. Due to her prior firearms charge from September Aquash was transferred back to Rapid City, S.D. to stand trial in November. Her lawyer filed a motion for pre-trial release and the judge granted Aquash’s release. Jackley believes the judge’s action made it appear to AIM that Aquash had struck a deal and turned over information.

Jackley told the audience that according to Aquash’s lawyer, she was never going to make a deal. She had refused to cooperate or testify. She would have faced a felony and time in jail. But she was too loyal to the American Indian Movement to turn over any evidence against the members of AIM.

The night before her trial began Aquash was moved from South Dakota to Denver, Colorado — upon request of AIM. She was taken to Troy Lynn Yellow Wood’s house — a safe house for AIM members. While in Denver Thelma Rios — in South Dakota — called to request that Aquash be brought back to South Dakota. Aquash was tied up, forced out of the house and thrown into the truck of Theda Clark’s car. It was stated by someone present in the house that Aquash told Yellow Wood “If you let them take me you’ll never see me again”.

Graham, Looking Cloud, and Clark kidnapped Aquash from Denver and went to the Knollwood apartments in Rapid City, South Dakota. After several stops they arrived at the home of Richard “Dickie” Marshall. It is alleged that during this stop Marshall gave Clark the gun that was used to execute Aquash. From Marshall’s home Graham, Looking Cloud, and Clark drove through the Badlands in South Dakota and executed Annie Mae Aquash.

On Feb. 24, 1976 a rancher found a body in a ravine on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The next day an autopsy was performed on the unidentified woman and it was concluded that the death was caused by exposure. The unidentified Jane Doe was buried on March 2, 1976. The next day March 3, 1976, fingerprints identified the body was that of Annie Mae Aquash. Her body was exhumed for a second autopsy that was performed on March 10, 1976. A bullet wound was found in the back of her head and a murder investigation started. The second burial of Aquash was on March 12, 1976 but she has since been exhumed and laid to rest in her native country of Canada.

No indictments were made against Looking Cloud and Graham until January 2003. Arlo Looking Cloud was arrested March 2003 in Denver, Colorado. On February 6, 2004, Looking Cloud was convicted for the murder of Annie Mae Aquash and sentenced to life in prison. John Graham who had fled back to his native home in Canada was arrested in December of 2003. It was another three years before Graham was extradited to the United States to stand trial.

Richard Marshall was indicted for aiding and abetting in 2008 and was acquitted of the charges against him on April 23, 2010.

John Graham and Thelma Rios were indicted in September 2009 for the murder and kidnapping of Annie Mae Aquash. On November 8, 2010, Rios pled guilty to accessory to kidnapping and was sentenced to five years in prison which was suspended. Graham was convicted of felony murder in December 2010 and sentenced to life in prison. Although Theda Clark was present during the kidnapping of Aquash, she was never charged.

Though convictions have been made in the Aquash murder case many questions have been left unanswered. What happened to the gun? Who really shot Aquash — Graham or Looking Cloud? The memory of Annie Mae Aquash is kept alive through her two daughters and a Facebook page created in her honor — Justice for Annie Mae Pictou Aquash Woman Warrior.