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SD court dismisses 2nd appeal in 1975 AIM slaying

PIERRE (AP) — The South Dakota Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a Canadian man's secondary appeal of his murder conviction and life sentence in the 1975 slaying of a fellow American Indian Movement activist.

In a direct appeal last year, the Supreme Court upheld John Graham's conviction for taking part in the killing of Annie Mae Aquash in South Dakota.

Graham then filed a secondary appeal that was denied by a circuit judge. Acting as his own lawyer, Graham asked the Supreme Court to consider the second appeal, but the high court dismissed it for procedural reasons, saying he failed to serve his appeal motion on state officials.

Graham was convicted of murder in December 2010 after prosecutors said Graham and two other AIM activists, Arlo Looking Cloud and Theda Clarke, killed Aquash because they suspected she was a government informant.

Graham, a member of the Southern Tutchone tribe in Canada's Yukon Territory, could not contacted in prison for comment Tuesday.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said the Supreme Court ruling ended Graham's challenges to his conviction in state courts.

"I am grateful for the cooperative efforts of tribal, state and federal law enforcement officers in bringing John Graham to justice," Jackley said in a statement. "Today's ruling is an important step toward final justice for Annie Mae and her family."

Aquash's body was found in a remote area in southwest South Dakota in February 1976. She was a member of the Mi'kmaq tribe of Nova Scotia. Federal agents investigated the case for years but didn't bring an indictment until March 2003, when Denver police arrested Looking Cloud.

Looking Cloud was convicted in federal court of first-degree murder in 2004 and sentenced to life in prison, but a federal judge later signed an order reducing Looking Cloud's sentence to 20 years.

Clark, who was never charged, died in 2011.

In his first appeal, Graham had argued that the government should not have been allowed to move his case from federal to state court after his extradition to the U.S.

However, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled last year that the state had jurisdiction to prosecute Graham, prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to convict him and his life sentence was appropriate.

AIM was founded in the late 1960s to protest the U.S. government's treatment of American Indians and to demand the government honor its treaties with Indian tribes. The group grabbed headlines in 1973 when it took over the village of Wounded Knee on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, leading to a 71-day standoff with federal agents that included the exchange of gunfire.