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Closing Arguments in Trial of Ex-Tribal Chairman MacDonald

October 14, 1992

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) _ Former Navajo tribal chairman Peter MacDonald refused to give up power after being suspended and helped organize a conspiracy that led to a riot in which two people were killed, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

But MacDonald’s defense attorney said MacDonald had told his supporters not to march on the tribal headquarters. The march led to the riot.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Pamela Gullett said MacDonald defied orders by the Tribal Council and tribal courts after the council placed him on administrative leave in February 1989 because of corruption allegations aired during U.S. Senate hearings.

″He felt he was above the law,″ Gullett said as closing arguments began in the federal court trial of MacDonald and nine co-defendants on charges stemming from the July 20, 1989, riot at the tribe’s headquarters in Window Rock.

The riot began when MacDonald supporters broke into the tribe’s administration and finance building and attacked officers with clubs, tear gas and other weapons. Two MacDonald supporters were fatally shot, two others were wounded by tribal police and three law officers were wounded.

MacDonald’s attorney, Bruce Griffen, said the prosecution’s closing arguments failed to mention trial testimony that MacDonald had urged supporters not to march on tribal headquarters.

″Of course they knew about it, but it didn’t fit the get-MacDonald mentality so, of course, they ignored it,″ Griffen said.

Griffen said the speech by MacDonald cleared him of liability for the charges of burglary, robbery and kidnapping.

The defense lawyer acknowledged that MacDonald tried to return to power but that he did so through political and legal means.

″It was a lot more simple and lot less sinister than what the government said,″ Griffen said.

Defense arguments were expected to continue Wednesday.

Gullett said MacDonald and co-defendant Donald Benally, a former tribal councilman from Shiprock, N.M., helped organize the attempted seizure of the building.

Benally was a key player in the alleged conspiracy, directing an earlier takeover of MacDonald’s former office and ordering that the office’s locks be changed, she said.

The riot capped a five-month power struggle that followed MacDonald’s suspension.

MacDonald, chairman in 1971-83 and 1987-89, already is serving a six-year sentence for bribery, conspiracy and ethics convictions in tribal court.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 26 on federal convictions of fraud, racketeering, extortion, conspiracy and interstate transportation in aid or racketeering.

MacDonald faces life in prison if convicted of the riot-related charges of conspiracy, assault with a dangerous weapon, robbery, burglary and kidnapping.

Three people reached plea agreements in the case, charges against three others were dismissed, a mistrial was declared for one other and 16 are scheduled to be tried later.

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