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News Alert: Former FBI Chief Heralds American Indian Movement Indictment

Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, 1945-1975
 
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Atlanta ? A former FBI official has expressed approval for the recent indictment of a fourth person in connection with the 1975 execution-style murder of a 30-year-old woman. Thelma Rios-Conroy of Rapid City was indicted on one count of felony murder in relation to kidnapping and one count of premeditated murder for the death of American Indian Movement (AIM) member Anna Mae Pictou Aquash. Joseph H. Trimbach, the former FBI Special Agent in Charge for South Dakota from 1973 to 1975, said the indictment shows that prosecutors are moving closer to indictments against AIM leaders and their lawyers.

Aquash was dragged from the trunk of a car near the reservation town of Wanblee, South Dakota, and shot in the head in December 1975. The alleged triggerman, AIM member John Graham, will stand trial in state court although no date has been set. Graham?s accomplice Arlo Looking Cloud was convicted in federal court of aiding and abetting the murder in 2004. Following a series of interrogations, AIM leaders falsely accused Aquash of being an FBI informant. One of her interrogators was convicted killer Leonard Peltier. At an AIM conference in June 1975, Peltier put a loaded gun in Aquash?s mouth to administer ?truth serum..? The trail of evidence could lead to Peltier?s former boss, AIM co-founder Dennis Banks.

Rios-Conroy was indicted in part because of a phone call she allegedly made saying that Aquash was found guilty of being an informant. The phone call led to the abduction, rape, and murder of Aquash after a final interrogation. Prosecutors believe Graham raped Aquash in Rios-Conroy?s Rapid City apartment. Rios-Conroy?s former boyfriend, Bruce Ellison, is a named co-conspirator. Ellison was a lawyer for the Wounded Knee Legal Defense Offense Committee (WKLDOC), a group that defended AIM leaders in court. Ellison allegedly questioned Aquash as she sat tied to a chair in his Rapid City WKLDOC office.

In 2001, Ellison testified before a UN Human Rights Commission and called for an investigation of the FBI for what he claimed were 60 ?uninvestigated? reservation killings. One of the cases he cited was the Aquash murder. AIM leaders and lawyers have accused the FBI of backing a tribal ?goon squad? that murdered AIM members and supporters. Many of these deaths, however, have since been exposed as having been instigated and committed by AIM members or were the result of deaths not attributed to inter-tribal violence. One of the dead, Michelle Tobacco, was a nine-month old victim of child abuse. Several of the deaths were found to be alcohol-related.

Trimbach?s book, American Indian Mafia, implicates another WKLDOC lawyer, Kenneth Tilsen, in the Aquash murder. Tilsen took possession of Aquash?s wallet near the time of her death but says he cannot remember details from that period. Trimbach?s book includes a letter Tilsen mailed to Aquash?s relatives in which he writes that the wallet came to him ?through a circuitous route..? According to Paul DeMain, editor of News from Indian Country, WKLDOC files from that period have been purged from public archival records. Another lawyer, Charles Abourezk, was closely associated with AIM leader Russell Means during the period when Means?s relatives were allegedly plotting against Aquash. Abourezk and Means are rumored to have been in the Wanblee area the night of the murder. Means?s former bodyguard, Richard Marshall, awaits trial in federal court. Marshall, an ex-convict for murder in a separate case, stands accused of providing the weapon and bullets Graham allegedly used to execute Aquash.

The Rios-Conroy indictment indicates that prosecutors have established a stronger link between Aquash?s final hours and her encounters with Ellison and several AIM members. Says Trimbach, ?I think all of this will lead to more indictments. It?s long overdue, but justice for Anna Mae might finally become a reality..?

 
John M. Trimbach
Trimbach & Associates, Inc.
Atlanta
770-883-5086