This is a character letter I sent to the judge in South Dakota today as the sentencing approaches for our friend John Graham. John has been found guilty by jury of a felony murder conviction, though the evidence is very flimsy. If you are not familiar with the case of John Graham, Anna Mae Aquash, the standoff at Wounded Knee and the American Indian Movement of the 1970’s in South Dakota I encourage you to go to (www.grahamdefense.org) and get familiar with the case for yourself. If you are familiar with the case I hope that you would write John Boy a letter and let him know we haven’t forgotten about him or given up on him. This is a sad hour for his friends and family as an innocent man sits on the brink of a life sentence for a crime the FBI perpetrated….joeyonly
re: character reference letter for John Graham
January 12th, 2010
Joseph William Martin Johnson
3006 East Georgia
To the Honorable John J. Delaney, Sr.
My name is Joseph W. Johnson and I am a community social worker in Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. I have known John Graham for nearly a decade and understand that a jury has found him guilty of felony manslaughter in South Dakota.
I have been at John’s side through nearly all of his extradition court dates in Vancouver and spent countless hours with him alone as a friend. John has many supporters here in Canada, many of whom cannot travel to South Dakota while many more have been ground down by nearly seven years of court proceedings.
I am also a well respected musician in Canada who traveled to the Yukon in 2006 to organize a benefit concert for John as he had no source of income while under house arrest. His entirely large extended family attended the event, all of which believed in John’s innocence and vowed to support him to the end. All of those family members I spoke to did not believe John would ever be capable of such an act as murder and attested to his abilities as a parent and the never-ending nature of his love. Even his ex-wife attended the event and believed John could never be capable of harming another human being. She has supported him throughout this entire ordeal and has only known him to be a loving father and friend.
John has always spoke of the power of peaceful action and love. For all of the protests John had helped to organize in Canada since he returned in the 1970’s none of them had ever resulted in confrontation, violence or arrests. All of these things which John had helped organize, some of which were against Uranium mining on native land in Saskatchewan, were organized to be explicitly peaceful in nature. John gathered no criminal record in Canada.
On one occasion there was a serious incident in our community here in Vancouver and many of the young native men vowed to seek revenge on the perpetrator. While this was happening John spoke strongly against them and against ever using violence no matter how terrible the crime was. He rebuked their plans of violent retribution and believed that only the creator is capable of distributing judgment. John is an ardent and honest pacifist.
Another occasion I witnessed some self proclaimed Indian warriors who approached John offering to hide him at camps they had in the British Columbia mountains so that he would not be found when the time for extradition came. John rebuked this saying that to be a true warrior meant to face what the creator had in store for him, to stand trial and look the darkness in the eye was the only way he could maintain his honor. He believed that if the creators will was for him to be free that only the creator could make that freedom happen. He never ran when he could have, he stood and faced everything the state has thrown at him believing in his own innocence to the core of his heart.
In the darkest of hours for John, as he knew his extradition was imminent, he always spoke with honor and compassion for his persecutors. He never once slipped up, he always spoke of the importance of loving our enemies. He is a loving father whose children adore him entirely, he is a man who deserves to see his grandchildren grow up.
John is among the most gentle, compassionate and kindhearted people I have ever known. He was always a friend to me with an open heart, an open mind and never spoke judgment against others even as many clawed at him attempting to destroy the life he has built for his family. One does not have to look much further than his own children to see his good nature, for his children too share compassionate and kind hearts. The apples have not fallen far from the tree and they themselves have gone on to raise beautiful grandchildren who I hope will one day get to know John.
With what I have known of John it is difficult for me to comprehend that he could actually be guilty of taking part in a murder on any level at any time. I say this as a social worker who has known people who were guilty of murder. The murderers I have known were different in many aspects of their character such as the anger they exhibited and substance abuse they relied on. John did not behave as a man who was guilty in these ways or as a man who had demons in his closet.
John on the other hand has always professed out loud that peace and love are the only way to settle our differences, he always spoke of Anna Mae as a woman he admired and showed genuine sadness regarding what happened to her. He told me on many occasions that she was a strong and beautiful woman who would never have worked for the FBI, and would never be suspect among his peers as a police collaborator. On more than one occasion I sat with John late at night and seen him cry aloud about what a shame it was that a beautiful and strong woman like Anna Mae should ever have met the fate she did. This was not a man guilty of murder, this was a man who was proud that he was able to ever have known such a woman. John Graham is a profoundly spiritual man who I never thought for a second was lying to me.
This letter is not a political platform so I will only say I think the truth of the matter of Anne Mae Aquash’s demise is not as simplistic as the prosecution would have us believe. There were many strange things that took place at the Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1970’s and it is well documented that the FBI played their game in a dirty way on more than one occasion. There are over 60 murders of Indian traditionalists that happened on Pine Ridge over this time, none of which has anyone attempted to solve.
It should also be taken into consideration that at the time of Anne Mae’s death John was a 19 year old boy caught up in something much bigger than himself, much bigger than he was likely able to comprehend at that age.
As I will believe to the end in John’s innocence I beg you, your honor, to consider the many holes that are in the case against John. I beg you to consider how even the judge who prevailed over the extradition hearing in Canada agreed that there was not enough evidence against John for him to ever be brought to trial in Canada. She signed the extradition order not because she believed that John was guilty but because the nature of the treaty simply gave her no other alternative.
The prosecution has failed to convict him of murder 1, the best they could do is a felony manslaughter and even that finding is questionable. All evidence against John has fallen apart except for the one piece that has come against him in the end. John has been found guilty of felony murder largely on the testimony of one person, a former street person and drug addict named Arlo Looking Cloud, even that testimony is itself questionable.
It is my hope that you will take all these things, and many more, into consideration when delivering a sentence upon John. It is my hope that he will be able to see his grandchildren again someday, that if you must sentence him it be to a length of time that would realistically allow us all to have John back in our lives. This is not a man who I believe deserves to spend a lifetime in prison, should this occur I would believe a terrible injustice and tragedy will have happened.
I beg of you because it is in your power to consider these things, you do not have have to send our friend John away for the rest of his life.
joseph william martin johnson