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An FBI agent threatened the life of Annie Mae Aquash in the months before her murder, a friend of hers testified Friday.

Candy Hamilton was called as a government witness in the case against John Graham, who is accused of killing Aquash in December 1975.

Under cross-examination, Hamilton said Aquash told her that FBI agent David Price had tried to get Aquash to talk about what happened at the Jumping Bull ranch at Oglala on June 26, 1975, when two FBI agents were fatally shot. Aquash -- who had been in Iowa on that date -- wouldn't talk to Price, who allegedly became angry.

"He said if she didn't start cooperating that he would see that she died," Hamilton told jurors.

Assistant attorney general Rod Oswald asked Hamilton if she was alleging that Price had killed Aquash.

"I don't think he pulled the trigger," she said, "but I think he could make it happen."

Hamilton said she did not trust FBI or tribal police and hadn't told them about seeing Aquash, who had clearly been crying, in December 1975 at the Rapid City office of the Wounded Knee legal committee. Prosecutors believe Aquash was interrogated there by members of the American Indian Movement, who suspected she was a government informant.

Hamilton said she heard the voices of Thelma Rios, Madonna Gilbert and Lorelei Means at the legal committee house and that she had previously argued with Rios, Means and attorney Bruce Ellison about whether Aquash was a "snitch."

Aquash's partly decomposed body was found in February 1976. Her hands were removed by investigators and sent to the FBI laboratory for possible fingerprint identification before the body was buried. After fingerprints determined the body was that of Aquash, it was exhumed for a second autopsy.

Hamilton said she and other women were at the Pine Ridge hospital during that autopsy. They asked officers if they could have Aquash's personal effects to give to her family but were told the items had to be kept as evidence.

Hamilton said FBI agent Bill Wood then tossed a box at her. "‘You want something of Annie Mae's? Here,' and he just threw the box," she said. "He said, ‘There's her hands.'"

Several people in the packed courtroom gasped, despite 7th Circuit Judge Jack Delaney's repeated admonitions throughout the trial that audience members keep their emotions and opinions in check to avoid influencing the jury.

Cleo Gates, the former wife of Richard Marshall, testified Friday that Graham, Theda Clarke, Arlo Looking Cloud and Aquash stopped at Marshalls' home in Allen late one night in December 1975. She said Aquash stayed in the living room with her while the others went into a bedroom with Richard Marshall, who soon emerged to tell his wife the others wanted them to keep Aquash there.

"I told him no," she said, because she "didn't like what was going on."

Darlene "Kamook" Nichols Ecoffey also testified. Ecoffey, who lived with AIM leader Dennis Banks for 17 years and is the mother of four of his children, is now married to Robert Ecoffey, the lead investigator into Aquash's murder and now Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Darlene Ecoffey told jurors she had heard conversations about Aquash being an informant during the AIM national convention in June 1975.

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She also told how she, her sister Bernadine Nichols, Aquash, Banks, Leonard Peltier, Kenny Loud Hawk and David Hill were traveling through Oregon in a motor home owned by actor Marlon Brando when they were stopped by police in October 1975. A shootout followed, but Banks and Peltier -- who was later convicted of murdering the FBI agents near Oglala in June 1975 -- escaped. Aquash and Ecoffey, who was then seven months pregnant, were arrested.

When South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley asked Ecoffey if she and the others had heard Peltier make "potentially incriminating" statements in the motor home, Ecoffey replied, "Yes."

She was not allowed to relate what Peltier said but did say that she saw him extend his finger like a gun and point it at his head.

Ecoffey told jurors that Banks called her on Feb. 24, 1976, to tell her Aquash's body had been found. According to previous testimony, the body was not identified until early March.

Testimony will resume Monday. The trial is expected to last at least two weeks. If convicted, Graham would face life in prison.

Contact Heidi Bell Gease at 394-8419 or Heidi.bell@rapidcityjournal.com

 

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