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indigenous issues | prisons & prisoners

Jury Convicts John Graham: Land Defender Faces Life in Prison

Friday afternoon, a South Dakota jury found John Graham guilty of murder in the second degree. John Graham has been found guilty of felony murder in the kidnapping of Anna Mae Aquash, his friend and comrade in the American Indian Movement (AIM). Anna Mae Aquash was murdered in the 1970's, in an execution style killing in South Dakota.
John Graham, Harriet Nahanee and others at John Grahams' '05 extradition hearing
John Graham, Harriet Nahanee and others at John Grahams' '05 extradition hearing
The jury acquitted Graham of premeditated murder, the first-degree charge. But even the lesser charge of second degree murder carries a sentence of life in prison.

Earlier today, a jury foreman told the Judge that they could not come to a unanimous verdict on one of the charges. Around an hour later, the jury had reached it's verdicts.
In felony murder cases, the prosecution does not have to prove that the accused actually killed anyone, instead the accused is found criminally liable for any deaths that occur during or in furtherance of a felony. In this case the felony is the kidnapping charge. For instance, if two people are robbing a bank and one of them is killed, the getaway driver can then be convicted of felony murder.

On Wednesday, John Murphy, lawyer for the defense, let the defense rest without calling a single witness. According to the Associated Press,

"Murphy then asked Judge John Delaney to dismiss the charges, arguing that prosecutors hadn't proven enough of their case beyond Looking Cloud's statements.

Delaney disagreed and denied the motion. Murphy asked again for a dismissal Wednesday after resting his case, but Delaney said he would not change his ruling."
Anna Mae Aquash was an indigenous warrior who fought for the land and people. She fought for the survival of native ways of life by teaching in AIM Native American Survival Schools and taking part in numerous armed land occupations.

According to this weeks' testimony of witness Candy Hamilton, Anna Mae feared for her life due to threats from the FBI. Hamilton stated in court that, "I don't know that (FBI Agent David Price) pulled the trigger, but I think he could make it happen." Arlo Looking Cloud, convicted in 2004 on murder charges related to the case, testified that he saw John Graham kill Anna Mae Aquash. Murphy insinuated Looking Cloud gave false testimony in order to receive reduced time in prison.

Anna Mae once said, "I am not a citizen of the United States or a ward of the Federal Government, neither am I a ward of the Canadian government. I have a right to continue my cycle in this Universe undisturbed." As Anna Mae did not recognize the authority of the United States, or any colonial government, the persecution of John Graham in her name is in contradiction to her own ideas. Reliance on the courts reinforces the legitimacy of the United States justice system, a system which legalizes the displacement and destruction of indigenous people across this land.

Justice, for Anna Mae, could not take place within the courts, for, in her own words, "Jails are not a solution to problems."

John Graham is currently being held in Pennington County Jail in Rapid City. He is awaiting sentencing. After sentencing, it is expected he will be transferred to a state penitentiary.


Sources:
Anna Mae Aquash Quotations:
 http://ourfreedom.wordpress.com/2007/05/20/neither-citizen-nor-ward/
 http://ourfreedom.wordpress.com/2007/10/01/jails-are-not-a-solution-to-problems/
Associated Press article:  link to newsday.com