John Graham, native of the Yukon and father of eight who has been living quietly in Vancouver for several years, was charged in the U.S. on March 30, 2003 with the 1975 first-degree murder of Anna Mae Aquash. On December 6, 2007, John was extradited to the US and remains in Pennington County Jail.
There are many tragedies which resulted from the shootout on the Pine Ridge reservation in the 1970s. These include the deaths of Lakota people, members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Canadian activist Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash.In an effort to gain convictions for the deaths of the FBI agents, a continuing abuse of the justice system by the FBI has ensued, involving the fabrication of evidence and the use of false testimony and fraudulent affidavits. Perhaps the most infamous result of these tactics was the illegal extradition of Leonard Peltier from Canada to face charges for the deaths of the two agents.
Amnesty International has condemned the fact
that the FBI knowingly used false evidence to obtain the extradition of AIM
activist Leonard Peltier from Canada in December 1976.
Warren Allmand, a former justice minister,
and the judge who extradited Peltier later said they would never have agreed
to his extradition had they known some affidavits and evidence presented by
the U.S. were false.
While John Graham was not present at the actual Pine Ridge shootout, he was in the area at the time working with AIM as a junior security guard and assisting with routine activities. In the months following, AIM activists and other aboriginal people were regularly rounded up and interrogated, causing many to fear for their safety.
Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash was a friend and fellow activist from Canada. A Mi’qmak aboriginal woman from Nova Scotia, Anna Mae was also experiencing continued harassment by the FBI who believed she knew the identity of the shooter responsible for the FBI deaths. Several months after the shootout, after having expressed concern for her own safety to friends and family, Anna Mae was found dead on the Pine Ridge reservation, having suffered a fatal bullet wound to the head.There are many questions that surround the death of Anna Mae, including the failure of the FBI agents to identify her while examining her body — even though they had interrogated her just weeks before. She was buried in an anonymous grave, and her hands were ordered cut off and sent to FBI Headquarters for identification. The FBI-led autopsy also failed to detect a bullet wound and bullet lodged in her cheek, blood-matted hair and blood stained clothing — prominent features which were immediately detected in a second independent autopsy. The concluded only that she had died of exposure.
An FBI-sanctioned pathologist missed the
bullet hole in the back of her head and said she died of exposure. Still
unable to identify her, Norman Zagrossi, an FBI regional supervisor based in
Washington, DC, ordered her hands chopped off. "Our experts in Washington
suggested and told us that the proper procedure was to cut off the hands,
put them in jars with formaldehyde and send them to Washington, which we
did. I never had before..."
It was a mutilation that even twenty-five
years later outrages the native community. A second autopsy with a
different pathologist showed a bullet still lodged in her head. Zagrossi
knew it looked like an FBI cover-up attempt, and he angrily phoned the first
pathologist. "It looked like we were involved, it looked like we were
trying to cover something up when in fact we weren't," said Zagrossi.
Over the past decade, members of the FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) have made four trips to the Yukon to visit John Graham, asking him to identify Anna Mae’s murderer while offering him immunity from any related charges. They also warned that if John did not comply, they would in turn bring charges against him for the crime. During their fourth and last visit to the Yukon, the agents informed John that it would be the last time they would come to see him — the last chance to accept their offer of immunity.Living up to their promise, and after questionable interrogations of John’s co-accused, Arlo Looking Cloud, the FBI charged John Graham with the murder of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash.
Extraditing the Innocent
On December 1, 2003, John was arrested in Vancouver. He was freed on bail but remained under house arrest while he fought extradition to the US. Significant evidence outlined in the US government’s summary was known to be either false or non-existent, while the bulk of remaining evidence consisted of hear-say testimony. Such evidence would likely not bring a conviction in a Canadian court. However, due to a post-911 agreement between Canada and the US, the Canadian court is only allowed to review a summary and can not challenge the actual evidence.During John's extradition process, the family and friends of John Graham, and numerous supporters, human rights and First Nation organizations, as well as the Honourable Yukon Member of Parliament and Parliamentary Secretary Larry Bagnell, called on the Canadian government and all involved to provide great scrutiny to the evidence presented in the extradition hearing.
Amnesty is urging Canadian authorities to
ensure that there is rigorous scrutiny of any evidence brought against him.
If Graham should be brought to trial in the US, Amnesty International will
seek assurances that his right to a fair trial is fully respected.
We are deeply concerned about the safety of
Mr. John Graham and the legality of the procedures in Canada.
greatest fear is that the U.S. will use the same kind of flimsy and
trumped-up evidence that they used against Leonard Peltier to justify the
extradition of John Graham, a Canadian citizen, to the U.S.," said Amnesty
International member Bob Newbrook, a retired police officer who arrested
Peltier in Alberta in 1976.
John lost his fight against extradition and was taken into US custody on the charge of first degree murder.
The evidence and testimony to be presented at trial is largely circumstantial and may well be the result of continued coercion and fabrication. Given the guilty plea by Thelma Rios (a sealed agreement where no time will be served in return for her plea), and the farcical results of the Arlo Looking Cloud trial (see "The Four-Day Trial of Arlo Looking Cloud" for more information), it is our belief that John Graham will not receive a fair trial in the United States.
We all grieve the tragic loss of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, and we do hope the truth about her death and the deaths of many others will someday be known.We are also absolutely convinced of John’s innocence and believe this charge to be a continuation of a travesty of justice which has endured since Europeans began to colonize the Americas. In the 1970s this injustice led to the formation of AIM and other groups, and ultimately led to the death of Anna Mae and the persecution of John Graham.