A federal court in South Dakota dropped murder charges against John Graham, a member of the Champagne/Aishihik First Nations, last week.
Graham, who was suspected of murdering a compatriot in the American Indian Movement in 1975, is beyond the jurisdiction of the federal court because prosecutors could not certify that he was a member of a
recognized American tribe, US District Judge Lawrence Piersol decided on February 3. He still faces state charges.
“It didn’t come as a surprise,” said Graham’s lawyer, John Murphy, in an e-mail. “The government knew for many months that their indictment was defective and that they could not prove up the allegations. The
government waited until the last possible moment to dismiss it in order to drag this process out.
“This has been a consistent pattern of the government.”
The Yukon native was extradited from Canada on federal charges in 2007, raising questions about whether the Canadian government did its due diligence in making sure the charges were substantial enough to
“(The US government) has continuously waited until the last minute,” said Murphy. “Because it knew that the case was a mess but didn’t want to have to publicly acknowledge it.”
Graham is being kept in a short-term incarceration facility in Rapid City, South Dakota, said Murphy. He’s doing “as well as can be expected for a man who has sat for over two years in a temporary holding facility.”
The charges from the state of South Dakota, where the 1975 murder took place, do not require proof of any ethnic, racial or political status to justify jurisdiction.
But the extradition of Canadian nationals to the US is an agreement between the two federal governments. It isn’t clear whether Canadian officials who approved the extradition knew how weak the federal case was.
Canada recently approved of South Dakota, a subordinate authority, moving ahead with the state charges. The state charges were not part of the US request for extradition in 2007.
Graham faces state charges in relation to the murder of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, a Mi’kmaq First Nation from Nova Scotia. The state alleges that Graham and Richard Marshall, another Canadian involved in the
American Indian Movement, murdered Pictou-Aquash in 1975. Graham’s dropped federal charges do not affect Marshall’s federal trial, which begins next week.
Graham faces 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 the state trial.
The trial is being held because the judge presiding over the case is ill and has not been able to consider release on conditions, said Murphy. The trial is expected to begin in July.