Extradition hearing begins for Graham
VANCOUVER (CP) - A feather blessed with prayers for peace and justice was held up in court Monday by a man accused in the 1975 murder of an American Indian Movement activist as prosecutors asked for his extradition to the U.S.
John Graham faces charges in South Dakota for the first-degree murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, a fellow AIM member and a Mi'kmaq from Nova Scotia. Witnesses at the trial for Graham's alleged partner in the crime, held earlier this year, testified Graham admitted to shooting Aquash in the back of the head because she was working as a mole for the FBI.
Graham denies the charges and is fighting extradition.
Supporters, including AIM activists who travelled from the U.S., said outside court the witnesses were coached and that some were homeless people plied with alcohol for their testimony.
"The whole thing stinks of government abuse. I would hope the Canadian courts would not allow that," said Vernon Bellecourt, the American Indian Movement's director of foreign relations.
Graham fears he will be dropped by the Canadian justice system into an unfair and dangerous trial south of the border where his guilt has already been decided.
Surrounded by his daughters and friends, Graham said he is not optimistic that he will escape extradition.
"I'm holding up, doing the best I can do, but I'm not confident," he said, as old buddies, some who flew in from the Yukon where Graham once lived, filed up to give him hugs of support.
Telquaa Helen Michelle passed a single feather to a sheriff in the court, who handed it to Graham as he sat in the prisoner's box waiting for the extradition hearing to begin. He nodded solemnly to her in thanks.
"It's his protection. I put my prayers in it that the truth will come out," the woman, a friend of Graham's since they were both teenagers in Vancouver fighting together for native land rights, said later.
Graham is now living under house arrest in East Vancouver.
One of his daughters, Naneek Graham, moved to the city from their Yukon home to be with her dad.
She could barely contain herself as the prosecutor read out the alleged facts of the case. The statement drew on testimony at the trial of Arlo Looking Cloud, who allegedly carried out the crime with Graham.
"Graham shot Aquash - who was crying and praying for her children - in the back of the head. Then Looking Cloud fired the remaining bullets into the ground," said Crown prosecutor Deborah Strachan.
Looking Cloud was sentenced to life in prison in February.
One of Graham's associates, Frank Dillon, testified that Graham later confessed to him.
"In 1976 Graham came to his house and said 'We had to remove an informant, we had to off her,' " Strachan said.
Naneek Graham squirmed in disgust.
"I just want to stand up and scream, this is wrong," she said through clenched teeth outside court.
Under Canadian law, the job of the trial judge in such extradition hearings is merely to establish that the person in the prisoner's box is indeed the man wanted by the U.S.
The judge is not to question the case the U.S. has against Graham unless there is obvious evidence that it is unreliable.
A voir dire was declared on the testimony of two Crown witnesses called to testify to Graham's identity.
The case against Looking Cloud was largely circumstantial, as is the case against Graham.
Terry LaLiberte, Graham's lawyer, said outside court that as far as he can tell, the case against Graham is based on the disclosure so far from U.S. authorities.
LaLiberte said he will mount a constitutional challenge at the end of the two-week extradition hearing. It will examine whether a section of the Extradition Act that allows hearsay evidence is constitutional.
LaLiberte said the U.S. sent investigators to Canada to gather evidence against Graham. They allege Graham made some admissions, and while it's difficult for LaLiberte to examine the hearsay evidence gathered in the U.S., he wants to challenge evidence gathered in Canada.
Aquash's death came amid a series of bloody clashes between federal agents and AIM, which was demanding treaty rights and self-determination for Indians.
Aquash was among the Indian militants who occupied the village of Wounded Knee for 71 days in 1973.
Aquash's family exhumed her body last month from a South Dakota grave so she could be reburied in Nova Scotia.
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