The South Dakota Supreme Court has upheld a Yukon First Nation man’s sentence to life in prison without parole.
On Thursday, the court ruled unanimously that the state had jurisdiction to prosecute John Graham and that prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to convict him.
In 2010, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations member was acquitted of premeditated murder. But he was convicted of felony murder for his suspected involvement in the killing of a woman in 1975.
Annie Mae Aquash, a Mi’kmaq woman from Nova Scotia, was an American Indian Movement activist, along with Graham and his co-accused Arlo Looking Cloud and Theda Clark.
According to prosecutors, Graham, Looking Cloud and Clark suspected that Aquash was a government informant, and so plotted her murder.
Aquash’s body was found in southwest South Dakota in February 1976. U.S. federal agents didn’t formally charge Graham until March 2003.
Graham’s lawyer, John Murphy, asserts that the U.S. should have never prosecuted Graham because he is a Canadian First Nation man, not an “American Indian.”
Graham was extradited from Canada in 2007 for charges related to the murder of Aquash. The Canadian court approved the extradition on the basis that Graham would be charged for federal offences.
The US-Canada extradition treaty only permits people be taken across the border for federal crimes.
But when the courts later dismissed these federal charges, Graham was charged under state laws.
That’s wrong, said Murphy. But the Canadian government never intervened for Graham.
Looking Cloud, who implicated Graham, was convicted in federal court of first-degree murder in 2004 and sentenced to life in prison. That sentence was later reduced to 20 years.
Clark was never charged and has since passed away.