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John Graham, seen in 2007, has been on trial since Dec. 1 on first- and second-degree murder charges related to the 1975 death of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash. ((Carson Walker/Associated Press))

A South Dakota jury has found John Graham guilty of felony murder in the 1975 slaying of a native woman originally from Nova Scotia.

Graham, 55, was acquitted of a second, more serious charge of premeditated murder in the slaying of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, a Mi'kmaq from Indian Brook, N.S., and an activist with the American Indian Movement (AIM). 

Felony murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

The two charges roughly parallel what are known as second- and first-degree murder charges in Canada.

Graham looked straight ahead and didn't move as the verdicts were read. His daughter, Naneek, began to cry as the jury members stood one by one to affirm the verdicts.

"We waited 35 years," said Denise Maloney Pictou, one of Pictou-Aquash's daughters, "It's been a long road for us."

Violent struggles

Graham, originally from Yukon, was accused of shooting Pictou-Aquash, 30, and leaving her to die on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. The killing occurred amid the violent struggles between AIM and agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the 1970s.

Prosecutors in the 7th Circuit Court in Rapid City, S.D., argued that Graham and two other AIM members kidnapped and killed Pictou-Aquash because they thought she was a government spy.

The charges against Graham were laid after Arlo Looking Cloud, another AIM member who was convicted in Pictou-Aquash's murder six years ago, alleged Graham was the one who shot her.

The jury in the case deliberated for 12 hours from Thursday to Friday before initially delivering a verdict on the felony murder charge but remaining deadlocked on the other charge. They eventually returned a verdict on the premeditated murder charge as well.

'We need to be together'

A Southern Tutchone originally from the Champagne and Asihihik First Nation in Yukon, Graham was extradited from Vancouver to the U.S. in 2007 to stand trial in Pictou-Aquash's death.

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John Graham's former partner, Viola Papequash, told CBC News their family members would support each other. ((CBC))

Graham's children, who live in Yukon, are in Rapid City this week to provide support to their father.

Viola Papequash, Graham's former partner and the mother of their children, said she is bringing family members together in Yukon so they can be prepared for the verdict.

"We need to be together to just support one another for whatever happens," Papequash told CBC News on Thursday from her home in Whitehorse.

Both Pictou-Aquash and Graham were active in AIM, which was established in the late 1960s to protest the U.S. government's treatment of American Indians and demand the government honour its treaties with Indian tribes.

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Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, seen in an undated family photo, was shot and left to die on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota in 1975. ((Family photo/Associated Press))

Pictou-Aquash's death came about six months after two FBI agents were killed during a shootout with AIM members at Pine Ridge, and two years after she participated in AIM's 71-day occupation of the South Dakota reservation town of Wounded Knee.

Papequash said the long legal saga leading up to Graham's trial has had its toll on their family.

"For John and I, as a family, it started in '89 when the FBI first came up — a long time, a long haul for all of us," she said.

With files from The Associated Press