Witness at AIM trial says Peltier bragged of killings

Claim emerges during 1975 murder case

? The former wife of AIM co-founder Dennis Banks told jurors Wednesday that she was with Anna Mae Aquash and others when Leonard Peltier bragged about killing two FBI agents in 1975.

Darlene Nichols testified at the trial of Arlo Looking Cloud, 50, a former American Indian Movement member accused of first-degree murder committed in the perpetration of a kidnapping in Aquash’s death in late 1975.

John Graham also is charged in her death. He was arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia, and is free on bond, although he has said he would fight extradition to the United States.

Aquash, a member of the Mi’kmaq Tribe of Canada, was an American Indian activist who was part of the 1973 takeover of Wounded Knee. She came to Pine Ridge in the early 1970s when AIM was gaining strength.

Some have speculated AIM members killed Aquash because she knew some of them were government spies. Others said she was killed because she was an informant.

Federal authorities and AIM leaders have denied any involvement.

Peltier later was found guilty of killing agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams and is serving back-to-back life sentences at Leavenworth, Kan. He has maintained his innocence but several appeals have failed to overturn the conviction.

Pointing at Peltier

Nichols cried when she told jurors she was with Banks, Aquash and others when Peltier said one of the agents begged for his life but that he shot them anyway.

“He started talking about June 26th (1975) and he put his hand like this and started talking about the two FBI agents,” said Nichols, gesturing as though she was holding a gun.

In a 2000 interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Nichols said Aquash was not a government informant, although Banks and Peltier, a fellow AIM leader, probably thought she was.

That’s likely why Aquash was allowed to flee with Nichols, Banks and Peltier after the two FBI agents were killed in June 1975 on the Pine Ridge reservation, months before Aquash’s death, Nichols has said.

‘Smearing Leonard’

In an interview Wednesday, Barry Bachrach, Peltier’s attorney, denied Nichols’ accusations.

“I’m not sure why she’s saying this. I’m not sure who put her up to it, but it is unequivocally false,” Bachrach told The Associated Press. “This whole trial is about smearing Leonard and other AIM people and covering up history.”

Nichols, also known as Ka-Mook Nichols, met Aquash in 1973 and they became friends. She testified that Peltier “said that he believed (Aquash) was a fed and that he was going to get some truth serum and give it to her so she would tell the truth.” Then one day Peltier started talking about how he had killed a man, Nichols said.

Nichols said she and Aquash shared a jail cell in the fall of 1975 when Aquash started talking about her fears. It was the last time she saw Aquash alive, Nichols said.

“She was upset, she was crying, she was afraid,” said Nichols. “I knew she was scared of Leonard and Dennis at that point.”

Nichols, who separated from Banks in 1989, said she eventually decided to call the FBI and cooperate in the investigation into Aquash’s death.

“I started believing the American Indian Movement had something to do with it,” she said.

Looking Cloud’s lawyer, Tim Rensch, asked Nichols — outside the presence of jurors — whether she stood to gain anything from her testimony through a book or movie deal. Nichols works in the movie industry.

The judge discouraged Rensch from pressing that line of questioning.


Also Wednesday, Rensch tried to get some retired FBI agents to talk about allegations of secret operations inside AIM in the 1970s.

Rensch asked the agents whether they knew anything about a “counterintelligence” program involving the FBI’s use of informants inside AIM. He also asked about “snitch jacketing,” involving agents allegedly starting rumors that some AIM members were government informants when they really weren’t.

Several agents testified Wednesday that they weren’t trained in either practice and did not take part in such activities.

“Did you ever take active efforts to start rumors that people who were not informants were informants?” Rensch asked retired FBI agent William Wood.

“Absolutely not,” Wood replied.

Also on Wednesday, several retired FBI agents testified that Aquash’s body was deteriorated, so the agency had a coroner remove her hands to be sent to an FBI laboratory in Washington for positive identification.

Dr. Garry Peterson, a Minneapolis pathologist who did a second autopsy on Aquash, had concluded she died of a gunshot wound to the back of the head at close range.