SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A Canadian man and a South Dakota woman were charged in the 1975 murder of a fellow American Indian Movement member, who prosecutors say was killed because the group's leaders suspected she was a government informant.
John Graham, of the Southern Tutchone tribe in Canada's Yukon territory, and Thelma Rios, of Rapid City, are accused of taking part in the kidnapping and killing of AIM member Annie Mae Aquash. Prosecutors announced the indictments Thursday.
Prosecutors say Graham and two other AIM members — Arlo Looking Cloud and Theda Clarke — drove Aquash from Denver to Rapid City, where she was held against her will and questioned about whether she was an informant. Prosecutors have said she was not working with the government.
They say Graham raped Aquash at Rios' apartment, and that he later fatally shot her near Wanblee, 86 miles east of Rapid City.
Graham, 54, is charged with one count of felony murder in relation to kidnapping, one count of felony murder in relation to rape and one count of premeditated murder in Aquash's slaying.
Rios, 64, is charged one count of felony murder in relation to kidnapping and one count of premeditated murder, said Attorney General Marty Jackley and Pennington County state's attorney Glenn Brenner.
All charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Attorneys for Graham and Marshall did not immediately return telephone messages Thursday seeking comment. Rios made her first court appearance Thursday and did not have a lawyer. Federal prosecutors declined to comment about the new charges.
Graham was supposed to stand trial in federal court Oct. 6 with former AIM member Richard Marshall. But that case is on hold because prosecutors are appealing rulings from a judge and appeals panel that concluded the U.S. government lacked jurisdiction to try Graham because neither he nor Aquash are American Indian. The federal government has jurisdiction over American Indian-related crimes.
There are no jurisdictional issues in the case against Marshall, who is accused of providing Graham with the gun and ammunition used to kill Aquash, and the charges against him stand.
Looking Cloud was convicted of murder in 2004 for his role in Aquash's death and was sentenced to life in prison. He is now a government witness.
"This isn't a turf battle. This is a cooperative investigation of federal, state and local authorities. This isn't a deal where we're trying to snatch somebody's case," said Jackley, who led the federal efforts to prosecute Graham and Marshall for three years as U.S. attorney.
Brenner said there is no statute of limitations on the state charges against Graham and Rios. The case should be simpler than in the federal system because prosecutors must merely prove if a crime was committed, he said.
"We do not have any of the blood line or tribal issues," Brenner said of Graham's federal case.
One of Aquash's daughters, Denise Maloney Pictou, said by phone from Nova Scotia that she's glad the case is proceeding.
"To me, it's always as long as the wheels are turning that's all that matters to our family, that there's movement," she said.
Clarke, who is in her mid-80s and lives in a nursing home in western Nebraska, has not been charged, though she is a material witness. Her lawyer filed a motion to quash a subpoena, saying she is incompetent to testify due to various medical and age-related ailments.
It took prosecutors decades to press charges in Aquash's killing because for a long time, investigators were unable to get enough key witnesses to cooperate. That changed in 2003, when a federal grand jury heard enough evidence to indict Graham and Looking Cloud.
AIM was founded in the late 1960s to protest the U.S. government's treatment of Indians and demand the government honor its treaties with Indian tribes. The group grabbed headlines in 1973 when it took over the village of Wounded Knee, leading to a 71-day standoff with federal agents that included the exchange of gunfire.