Ghost Dance

Activists still wonder if Standing Deer died in a plot by the feds or Indian foes or for no reason at all

The night Smashed Ice stabbed Standing Deer to death with a kitchen knife, he made four phone calls. The first three were for an alibi that never held up. The fourth conveyed his confession.

The slain man's friend Judy Krull got the first two calls. At 3 a.m. on January 21, Smashed Ice asked Krull to pick him up at the bus station. She hardly knew Smashed Ice. No one did. No one knew how he had wound up at Standing Deer's Chimney Rock apartment from Maryland six days earlier. But he had said he was the nephew of the respected Leonard Crow Dog, and that was enough to get him through any door.

Now this Lakota stranger said he was at the bus station and needed a ride back to Standing Deer's apartment. She politely refused.

Four hours later, Smashed Ice called her from the Deer's apartment.

"Something's wrong," he said.

Krull knew right away. She bolted to her car and called the cops on her cell phone. By the time she arrived, a detective had already questioned Smashed Ice. The Indian said he'd left for a few hours, and discovered the Deer's body when he returned. That's when he noticed someone had broken in through the back door.

Krull managed to stick her head inside the front door. There, looking back at her, was the buffalo head on the drum that Smashed Ice had been playing two nights before.

The three of them had driven to Krull's apartment after dinner. The Deer was expecting a conference call from his friend in Leavenworth Prison, Leonard Peltier. He was serving two life sentences for executing two FBI agents on a South Dakota reservation 28 years ago. He had big plans to announce about changes at his defense committee that night, and the Deer couldn't afford to miss the call.

While he disappeared into the bedroom to wait for the call, Krull lit some sage. Smashed Ice sang spirituals and sweat-lodge prayers as he pounded the drum with a mallet. His voice was beautiful.

She had let Smashed Ice take the drum home with him. He was planning to play it on a radio show with the Deer the next day.

Now the 70-year-old lay butchered on his bed, bloodied by more than 20 stab wounds from the left side of his mouth down to his right ankle. He had been out of prison for only 18 months.

It wasn't an FBI bullet that would kill him, as his friends always feared, but a drunken Lakota.

It looked like a stranger traveled halfway across the country to kill Standing Deer for no reason. The Deer had no money and no connection to his killer. But he did have ties to Peltier and his crumbling defense committee, the self-destructing American Indian Movement and, by his own account, crooked federal agents.

If it's hard to imagine that the federal government had him killed for exposing a plot, or other Indians had the Deer killed for silence, it's even harder for his friends to imagine that he was killed for no reason at all.


Robert Wilson's father tried to beat the Indian out of his kids.

The elder Wilson had a good job as an auditor for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Oklahoma City. He was an Oklahoma Choctaw married to a Wisconsin Oneida, living off the reservation in a white neighborhood with white friends. His daughter and two sons went to white schools.

He would be damned if his kids thought of themselves as anything other than American. He hit them for speaking Choctaw or Oneida and told them to do the same to anyone who called them Indians.

Working for the BIA, the elder Wilson knew about life on the reservation. He knew about the poverty and the unemployment and the crime and the alcohol. He didn't want that for his kids. But at night, when the lights were out, Robert Wilson and his siblings huddled together, whispering in their native tongues.

Robert Wilson knew his grandparents enough to know he loved their cultures. He visited his father's people in the Washita Mountains, until his constant talk about Indian stories proved too much for his father. The man forbade the boy from seeing the elders again.

In the self-published memoir he authored later, as Standing Deer, he recalls those times: "I was never accepted around Indians who weren't relatives because I didn't know how to act. I no longer remembered the language or customs. I was an outsider, and when I would ask about sweat lodges and vision pits, I was met with blank stares."

Their resistance kept him out of Indian society. Clinging to his Indian heritage, he wore his hair long, but he wound up marrying a white woman when he was 19.

He was an angry man who loved other Indians and was taught to hate the Indian in himself. He was also a humorous, articulate man who loved to prepare Indian meals for his two daughters. He tried to be a good dad but didn't always know what to do. He bought his younger daughter a bunny and took her to see Fantasia.He also dragged her to Easy Rider. Those were some of the last things she remembers, before he went off to prison.

When he was sentenced to 25 years for armed robbery of a bank, it looked like Standing Deer was going to be a cliché, another good-for-nothing Indian in the eyes of the McAlester prison authorities. What happened instead secured his place in modern Indian history.


Pius Vinton Smashed Ice was seven years old when Standing Deer went to McAlester in 1972. He was born on the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota, a place so bleak there was just as much chance of his becoming a cold-blooded killer as not.

Like every other reservation, Rosebud was built on a lie.

The United States government promised the Lakotas sovereignty and an abundance of land, but then pulverized their rights and reduced their land in a succession of so-called treaties.

Rosebud, the second-poorest reservation, comprises the fifth-poorest county in the country. Half of the 28,000 enrolled tribal members are unemployed and impoverished.

Many men scramble for seasonal labor, but with no consistent workforce and high poverty, there is also high crime. Thirty percent of males on the Rosebud reservation are in prison before their 23rd birthday. The crime might not be so bad if the reservation could afford to provide more than one police officer for every 400 square miles.

Smashed Ice was born in 1965 in the Rosebud town of Parmelee, the son of Sam Smashed Ice and Sarah Medicine. Like all the other Smashed Ice children, Pius was baptized Catholic. He attended the St. Francis Indian School, where he says they cut his hair and washed his mouth out with soap if he spoke Lakota.

His father, then a tribal policeman, divorced Sarah in 1973 and married another woman six days later. Sam, no longer wanting to be associated with the Smashed Ice clan, adopted his grandfather's name, Wounded Head. He is now one of the most prominent medicine men on Rosebud.

Pius moved back in with his mother after his parents' breakup. She gave him enough confidence to become a formidable bareback rider in the reservation rodeos. When he got thrown from horses one too many times, he switched gears and earned a reputation on reservations in three states as an excellent horse mugger. In a three-man team, his job was to confront the wild horse head-on, jump on the thrashing animal's neck and hold it down to be harnessed for the rider.

That ended when his mother died of cancer when he was 17. Her death destroyed him. He lost interest in the horses and in school, eventually dropping out. When his grandmother died four years later, he felt completely alone. He wandered the reservation for months, sometimes staying with his sisters on the reservation, sometimes staying with relatives in Rapid City.

It was in Rapid City that he first got into trouble. He stabbed a white man in a public park in 1997 and served five years in prison. Smashed Ice told family members the man he stabbed had attacked a relative; he told the Houston Presshis victim was a homeless drunk who came at him with a knife.

He was released in July 2002, eight months after Standing Deer was paroled to Houston. Five months later, the two would meet, and Smashed Ice would kill him.


In his Oklahoma prison, Standing Deer was smart and strong. No matter how hard he said the guards beat him, or how long he was thrown in the hole, he would emerge more vicious than before. In 1973, he took part in a prison riot that killed three inmates and caused $20 million worth of damage, burning the administrative sector of McAlester Prison to the ground.

After order was restored, according to the Deer's writings, prison guards walked from cell to cell, firing tear gas at the prisoners. The Deer wrote that he was gassed so much he went deaf in his left ear and his vision was damaged.

In another story of retribution, Standing Deer said guards denied all medical attention. He told of being in agony from two wisdom teeth bursting through his gums, until he begged the most sadistic guard in McAlester for a nail and a pair of pliers. The guard obliged, on the provision that he could watch.

After driving the nail into his swollen gums to loosen them, the Deer ripped out his teeth with the pliers.

This is the man the authorities put on a bus for a transfer from McAlester to Stringtown in April 1975.

He and a friend hijacked the bus, escaped and went on a robbery rampage for the next 12 months. After an Oklahoma City bank holdup, he shot a cop. In Houston, he robbed a diamond importer after holding three employees at gunpoint.

He was captured in Chicago, handed three life sentences for the Houston heist and sent to a maximum-security prison in Marion, Illinois -- even as Oklahoma authorities indicted him for attempted murder and escape from prison. It looked like Wilson would never be free again.


A year after the 1972 McAlester prison riot, hundreds of Lakotas tied to the decade-old American Indian Movement gathered in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, to protest the deplorable conditions on Rosebud and the neighboring Pine Ridge reservation.

The caravans arrived 143 years after the Seventh Cavalry slaughtered hundreds of Indian men, women and children on the same spot. AIM members called for congressional hearings on Lakota sovereignty and rallied against what they called tribal corruption.

The protests resulted in a 71-day standoff between AIM and federal and tribal authorities. AIM took two white hostages and two Indians were killed.

Leonard Crow Dog, the spiritual adviser during the standoff, was the great-grandson of a proponent of the 1889 Ghost Dance. Calling upon the spirits of their ancestors to make them immune to the white man's bullets, the earlier Indians performed the Ghost Dance and made special clothing to invite their ancestors into their bodies. The Indians slaughtered at Wounded Knee in 1890 wore those shirts. After their deaths, no one performed the Ghost Dance until Crow Dog revived the lost ceremony in the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee.

In the two years following that standoff, more than 60 Indians were killed on Pine Ridge. AIM activists accused the FBI of stalling the investigations and of illegally spying on AIM activities.

Minneapolis FBI agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams stumbled into this war zone in 1975. The agents, both in their twenties, planned to serve a warrant on a young Indian wanted for armed robbery. When they arrived, shots were exchanged with a band of AIM activists. One Indian was killed.

The outnumbered agents made desperate pleas for backup on their car radio, but it was too late. As they lay wounded, someone walked over to the agents and executed them at point-blank range.

In one of the largest FBI manhunts in history, agents captured and charged four men with killing the agents. The only one convicted was Leonard Peltier, a 31-year-old member of AIM who received two life prison terms.

Peltier gained instant martyrdom. Many people on the reservations believed Peltier was innocent, that the FBI -- in its zeal to avenge the agents' killings -- cooked affidavits and falsified evidence to convict him.


"I get real nervous," Standing Deer says.

He's sitting on a bench in a Pittsburgh park during an interview videotaped by a friend 14 months before his death. He had broken parole to visit friends. Now he was recounting the story that made him famous and, 23 years later, still had him scared.

The man on the tape -- pudgy, with a huge bulbous nose, wagging jowls and oversize sunglasses -- bears no resemblance to the notorious bandit who had robbed 17 banks in 12 months. He wears what looks like a tan suede jacket over a black "Free Leonard Peltier" T-shirt. Until this point in the tape, he's been describing his childhood in a soft, articulate manner. But when his story turns to Marion prison, he hesitates.

The tape stops, then catches Standing Deer at an angle. Nervous or not, he gets right into his tale:

He's in a locked room in the prison hospital. He's old beyond his 46 years, with a bad back and diabetes. In walks the head of corrections, a man called the Captain. With him is a blond-haired, blue-eyed stranger in a brown suit who never gives his name.

The Captain stands quietly while the stranger speaks. He tells Standing Deer that Peltier is being transferred to Marion, and he wants Standing Deer to "neutralize" him.

Lying on his hospital bed in agony, Standing Deer knows who Peltier is -- everyone does -- but he never met him. He asks the stranger what he's requesting.

"You'll have to figure that out for yourself," the stranger replies. "But we know that you're not averse to going all the way when you're in a desperate situation."

The stranger continues: He will personally deny any medical attention unless Standing Deer cooperates. The patient can barely walk. He's dependent on pills for his back and is always in excruciating pain.

Standing Deer hates authority. He hates the government. But he figures he has no choice. "What's in it for me?" he asks.

The stranger says he can be moved back to Oklahoma, to a state prison he's escaped from before. The feds would no longer care about him. But Standing Deer figures that returning to Oklahoma -- he was still facing trial there for shooting a cop in 1975 -- would be a veritable death sentence. He needs something more. He asks the stranger if he can get the Oklahoma charges dismissed.

"If you can do it, I'll kill Peltier in front of the control center anytime you want it done," he says.

The Captain chuckles, then tells the stranger, "I told you he was your boy."

The stranger agrees. He wants him to befriend Peltier and convince him to escape. The stranger will supply this inmate with anything he needs to prove he has the goods for an escape: a gun (loaded with blanks), hacksaw blades, material for making dummies. All he has to do is get Peltier to the fence.

Standing Deer says he'll do it. Before the Captain and the stranger leave, they warn him that if he tells anyone about this, he'll be dead. The convict knows they mean it.

A few weeks later, Peltier transfers to Marion. Standing Deer sees his target across the courtyard, talking to other Indians.

Peltier has long black hair, a thick mustache and the sacred scars of the Sun Dance. He's telling about his first decision to become a leader. He was 14 years old, and an elderly woman on Pine Ridge was asking, "Where are all our warriors?" She saw her children starving and dying and succumbing to the horrors of life on the reservation.

Standing Deer is stunned.

"When I looked at Leonard, I saw in him all the things I never was and never could be," he says. He chokes up. "I was going to kill him…I reeked with shame."

He knows he can't go through with it, even if it means no more medical attention or life in the hole or maybe death. He tells Peltier he was sent to kill him. Peltier says nothing.

The next day, Alan Iron Moccasin, Peltier's 300-pound Lakota bodyguard, comes to Standing Deer's cell and tells him that Peltier wants to see him. Standing Deer's first thought is of the shiv under his mattress, of protecting himself. But the man he saw in the courtyard would not want to hurt him.

Iron Moccasin escorts him to the law library, which Peltier has already asked to be cleared. Peltier leads Wilson and Iron Moccasin into the storage room, where he promptly drops to his knees and fastens a blindfold over his eyes. Iron Moccasin produces rope from his coat and binds Peltier's hands behind his back. Peltier then tells his bodyguard to leave.

Iron Moccasin is unsure.

"Go on," Peltier says.

When the bodyguard leaves, Peltier has Standing Deer close the door and block it with a bookshelf so no one can get in. He obeys.

Peltier then tells him to reach into another bookshelf for a rolled-up newspaper. Wilson does as he is told. The paper is heavy. Wrapped inside is an 18-inch shank, beautifully crafted in the machine shop.

Suddenly, a ray of light from the storage room window gleams on the knife, blinding Standing Deer. He's dizzy, disoriented. The knife transforms into a snake. But Wilson is paralyzed, he can't drop the seething serpent. Instead, he stares straight into its eyes. The knife changes again; this time it's the blue-eyed stranger who told him to kill Peltier.

From outside this odyssey comes Peltier's voice: "Do whatever it is you have to do, my brother."

Wilson reacts before he even realizes it. He raises the knife and slashes through the rope binding Peltier's wrists. He rips off Peltier's blindfold and sees the tears in the man's eyes.

At that moment, all of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father for speaking Indian, all of the rage he felt inside him for being cast away from the elders evaporated.

Until that point in his life, he'd always been Robert Wilson. He was now Standing Deer. He had come home to his people.


Peltier himself had hoped to be freed as part of the wave of clemency action on the eve of President Bill Clinton's departure in 2000. He and members of his defense committee were convinced that he would be released. When it did not happen, Peltier lashed out at Clinton and his own committee. He accused board members of not working hard enough for clemency and of mismanaging funds.

A year later, more problems plagued the effort to free Peltier. Allegations surfaced in an Indian newspaper that linked Peltier to the death of a young AIM woman named Anna Mae Aquash in 1975. She had been killed by other AIM members because she saw Peltier kill the agents, the article contended.

If she was killed for what she knew, how many others had been killed for the same reason? Who were next? As damaging to Peltier as the story was, he still maintained supporters. He asked Standing Deer to join the board upon parole. According to friends, Standing Deer agreed, even though he was wary of the dispute between Peltier and the board.

Two nights before Standing Deer's murder, he and other associates were supposed to take part in a conference call with Peltier. It never happened.


Smashed Ice was released from his Sioux Falls prison cell in July 2002. His movements over the next six months defy clear explanation.

He first went to Rockville, Maryland, where he stayed with Sherry Connell, a 47-year-old preschool teacher who had been his pen pal when he was in prison. Smashed Ice told her in his letters that he got in trouble with the law when he was 15, shot a BIA officer in the leg and served eight years in a Colorado prison. He told her how he had stabbed that Rapid City white man so brutally that the man was paralyzed. None of it was true, but much of it was similar to the criminal record of his four-month cellmate, Alan Iron Moccasin.

Connell says Smashed Ice asked her in his letters to marry him. But shortly after he showed up in Rockville, he grew abusive. He drank constantly, didn't look for work and hung out with like-minded losers who frequented a nearby men's shelter.

"I felt for Pius," she says. "I saw the kid that was thrown away and that nobody really gave a shit about."

She says Smashed Ice told her that his father never returned his love. Things hadn't been the same since the divorce, when Smashed Ice's mother demanded custody of the children. Smashed Ice told Connell that he feared his father was going to beat his mother. He got between them, and Sam Wounded Head cracked Smashed Ice right in the mouth.

Smashed Ice soon started making strange requests to Connell, like randomly asking her to lie down so he could watch her go to sleep, she says. It became his obsession, she says, and something she would never do.

She kicked him out after several weeks, so he caught a bus back to Rosebud. There he took part in a sacred four-day Sun Dance. A medicine man pinched his chest and arms, pierced the flesh with a knife and ran pieces of bone through the holes. Ropes were tied from the bones to a tree, and Smashed Ice spent the next four days freeing himself. The dancers offered their flesh for the good of the tribe and gave thanks to the sun, which gives life to all.

He tired of the reservation and moved in briefly with a friend in Kansas, another woman who had written him while he was in prison. She welcomed him, but he soon turned on her. He went through her mail and listened in on her phone conversations, she says. After ten days, she gave him enough money for a bus ticket out of town.

Back in Maryland, Smashed Ice found work as a day laborer and moved into a boarding house in Frederick. Connell visited him shortly before Christmas and says he had lost 30 pounds from doing crank and crack. She brought him his favorite treats, Doritos and Mountain Dew, but he couldn't eat. He gagged trying to force himself.

She says she saw him last in early January, when he said he found a way to get enough money for them to be married. A South Dakota Lakota had given him the phone number of an Indian social service agency where the ex-wife of the great Standing Deer worked, right there in Maryland. She would tell him how to find Standing Deer, and Standing Deer would give him $4,900 -- enough for a wedding and honeymoon.

Smashed Ice said he would come back to Maryland for Connell. He left all of his belongings in his apartment. He left town so quickly he didn't even bring an extra pair of socks.


On January 13, Anna Standing Deer prepared to meet a Lakota who had called her agency's Frederick office, saying he needed to get back on his feet. The 53-year-old woman always fought for Indian rights. She was an African-American with Creek, Choctaw and Cherokee blood. And she was an avid supporter of Peltier and Standing Deer. She struck up a correspondence with the Deer in the late 1970s, and married him when he was in prison in 1981.

Anna entered the office and saw the stocky Indian in a baseball cap give her a wicked smile, like he'd landed on his prey. He acted as if he already knew who she was.

It made her uncomfortable, but the man soon told her he was Leonard Crow Dog's nephew, and the son of Sam Wounded Head.

A few minutes into the interview, Standing Deer called Anna on her cell phone.

"Guess who I'm sitting with?" she asked the Deer. "Leonard Crow Dog's nephew."

Smashed Ice perked up.

"Is that an Indian?" he asked. "Let me speak Lakota to him."

Anna knew that Standing Deer loved the Lakota tribe. She passed the phone across the table, but the man didn't speak Lakota.

"What's your name?" he asked the Deer.

Within minutes, the man got Standing Deer's phone number and address -- information he carefully guarded. But this was the great medicine man's nephew he was talking to. He could trust him.

After the call, Anna said she could get him a welfare check in about ten days, but he'd have to stay in Frederick. He asked her for a ride back to his apartment, then suddenly turned on her. "You fucked me up with Standing Deer!" he screamed. "I wanted to be down in Texas by Friday!"

Anna was scared, but she kept her word and gave him the ride. He asked to be dropped off a few blocks from his place. She got home 30 minutes later and told Standing Deer about the outburst when he called.

"What are you talking about?" the Deer asked. "Who was the last one to talk to him, me or you?"

Standing Deer said the man had just called him about 15 minutes ago from the Frederick Community Action Agency. A caseworker wanted to verify that he knew Pius Vinton Smashed Ice before the agency bought him a ticket on a bus headed for Houston that night.

Standing Deer was supposed to pick him up at the bus station.

He asked Anna what his killer looked like.


Sam Wounded Head says he hasn't spoken with or written to his son since he killed Standing Deer. "We ain't got time," he says in a thick Lakota accent from his Rosebud home. "We have a lot of things to do on the reservation."

Both he and Norma Wounded Head say Sam never hit Smashed Ice. Norma calls her stepson a born liar with a hot temper.

Smashed Ice has written two of his sisters, asking them to pray for him. He also sent a letter to Connell saying that shortly after he arrived at Standing Deer's, this supposedly great man started talking bad about Leonard Crow Dog.

"These urban Indians don't know anything about their culture," he wrote. He wrote that he shrugged it off, but on the night of January 20, he couldn't overlook it anymore.

They both drank heavily that night and the Deer talked bad about Crow Dog again, then made a sexual advance, Smashed Ice wrote to Connell.

"I waited until he made a move that he shouldn't have," Smashed Ice wrote. And now he had Standing Deer's blood on his hands, and only a medicine man like Leonard Crow Dog could wash it off.

The coroner's report for Robert Hugh Wilson shows no drugs or alcohol in the man's system. And the blood in the bedroom was confined to Standing Deer's pillows, the sheets and the floor immediately by the bed. He was most likely sleeping when Smashed Ice grabbed a knife from the kitchen and entered his room.

"I knew it was in his sleep, because Pius was going to hurt me in my sleep," Connell says. She believes that when Smashed Ice plunged the blade into the old Indian, he wasn't stabbing Standing Deer. He was stabbing his father.

Smashed Ice, waiting in Harris County jail for his scheduled July 8 sentencing, avoids specific questions about why he killed Standing Deer, preferring to rant about other injustices.

"Are you going to write about poverty on the reservations?" he says, raising his voice from his usual monotone. "Are you going to write about genocide?"

He asks if this story is going to make him look like a savage, the way he says Indians are always portrayed.

"We're not savages," he says.

As much bitterness as he has about the reservation and the history of the Lakota people, he says he does not hate white people. That was instilled in him from the beginning.

"My father told me, and my grandfather told me, 'It don't matter if they're the enemy. Just shake their hands.' "

He balks at the notion that most of Standing Deer's friends have: that the feds somehow hired him to kill Standing Deer for reneging in a plot to murder Peltier.

Why would he work for the government, he asks, when "the fucking government is the ones that's fucking my people?"


Two months after Standing Deer's slaying, Peltier posted a statement on a Web site that claimed to belong to his defense committee. Its contents struck the Deer's youngest daughter, Vickie Larsen, as strange. Peltier wrote more about who his longtime friend was not, rather than mourning his loss.

"I want to set the story straight," he wrote. "I want to be honest about my history with the Deer. I know there have been things written about the Deer that say he knew all about our culture, religion, and history and that I was his teacher. This is not true."

Peltier explains that Standing Deer was smart, kind and funny, but that he was just an "ordinary man."

"I will miss the Deer," he wrote. "He was a good, solid Brother. You could bet your life on him."

Peltier sent Delaney Bruce, who works for his defense committee, as his representative to Standing Deer's cremation. She presented Larsen with a deerskin robe for her to drape over her father's body.

A short while after the cremation, Chief Billy Tayac says, Standing Deer came to him in a dream. The Piscataway Indian, of Accokeek, Maryland, says that in his dream, he found an entrance to the spirit world, stepped inside and was instantly engulfed in a blinding light.

A few moments later, his old friend Standing Deer appeared.

"What's going on?" the chief asked.

"This is a holding area," the Deer replied. "I can't go into the spirit world until I get an honoring ceremony."

An ancestor appeared behind Standing Deer and told the chief exactly what he needed to do: Burn an eagle feather in a pyre of cedar by the sacred burial grounds outside Accokeek. The feather will rise to the spirit world and become Standing Deer's key.

In April, the chief invited Standing Deer's friends and family to the burial grounds. They burned the cedar, and Larsen stepped forward and dropped the feather on the pyre.

Everyone who is asked about it swears what happened next is true: Two deer suddenly sprang out of the nearby woods and stood dead still in the middle of a clearing. They stared at the people circling the pyre. The people stared back. The deer turned and retreated to the woods.

It was Standing Deer and the ancestor, the slain man's loved ones believe. It was a signal that he had finally made it to the spirit world.


Standing Deer's friends and family are convinced that someone sent Smashed Ice to kill him. Some believe it was the work of the feds, others believe it was Indians. Inside prison, they say, he was protected. Outside, he was an easy target.

The FBI denies any involvement.

"I can say categorically that the FBI has not been involved in any plot to murder any individual as part of any conspiracy to either kill Leonard Peltier" or Standing Deer, says FBI spokesman Bill Carter. "The FBI does not operate illegally."

Paul DeMain, the editor who believes Peltier is linked to the Aquash execution, wonders if there isn't another reason behind the Deer's death.

"The light that goes off on my head is a security breach, to tell you the truth," he says. "Somewhere in this story…Standing Deer talked to someone and said something about the wrong thing."

DeMain says all of the AIM leaders who were once together in the '70s have enough inside knowledge about Wounded Knee and the agents' murders to destroy each other's reputations, or even threaten each other's lives.

"There are spiritual alliances, there are warriorhood alliances," DeMain says. It boils down to the Lakota word for extended family, tyopse. That plays "a huge role in what people are willing to do for other people," DeMain says. "It's got to do with family honor."

Unlike Peltier, Crow Dog and Iron Moccasin, Standing Deer was not Lakota. But he always backed Peltier. He signed an affidavit and went public with his story about the blue-eyed stranger in Marion. After his release, he joined Peltier's committee and continued the fight to overturn the conviction.

That's what makes his reported comment to a friend so strange, shortly after his release from prison. The associate, who asked to remain anonymous for saying something akin to treason, once asked Standing Deer if he thought Peltier really did kill those agents.

Standing Deer's quoted response may mean nothing -- or may explain a lot:

"I don't know."

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