Web report on Oneida officials was 'mistake,' editor says

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ONEIDA NATION HOMELANDS, N.Y. ? Paul DeMain, editor of News From Indian County, a twice-monthly newspaper in Ojibwe territory in Wisconsin, is acknowledging that he is the source of a report saying that the investigation of an alleged murder 21 years ago on Oneida land involves a "top Oneida Nation official."

The statement is universally denied by agents of several jurisdictions investigating the disappearance and alleged murder of Tammy Mahoney, at the time a 19-year-old college student last seen hitch-hiking in the city of Oneida on May 8, 1981. Spokesmen for the investigation deny that they ever talked to DeMain.

DeMain confirmed to Indian Country Today that he did not interview law enforcement officials. He said his statement, inserted as a phrase in an Associated Press story, was derived from "four different people" in New York who he said were familiar with the details of the alleged crime and the people suspected of committing it.

He said he relied on these sources in rewriting the last paragraph of an Associated Press story, drawn from a Syracuse Post-Standard story saying that federal prosecutors were reviewing the case. The rewritten sentence read: "The names of several suspects, which allegedly include the name of a top Oneida Nation official and potential grand jury witnesses were turned over in April to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Syracuse, N.Y., because the alleged crimes occurred on Indian land at the Oneida's original 32-acre reservation site."

Although DeMain's story drew little notice at the time, he provided a clip to Kenneth Deer, editor of the Eastern Door, a Mohawk paper based on the Kahnawake territory in Canada. Ross Montour, a staff writer at the Eastern Door, incorporated the story with subsequent Associated Press reports and his version received wide circulation on the native email circuit.

Montour's story closely followed AP reports of the excavation of a former pond, now parking lot, near the Oneida Shako:wi Cultural Center in a search for evidence. (These reports, attributed to the AP, also appeared in the July 3 issue of Indian Country Today.)

Although the Eastern Door story added only two new elements to the reports, it did not credit the AP. One of the new elements was the statement in a headline that more than one official was implicated; Deer now says that the use of the plural was a typographical mistake. The other new word was the insertion of the adverb "ironically" before the factual statement that the heavy equipment in the excavation was supplied by the Oneida Indian Nation.

County and state investigators consistently say that Oneida Nation police have cooperated fully in the investigation and in fact have helped develop leads that have dramatically quickened its pace. Rumors about the probe have inevitably become entangled in a long-running internal feud pitting members of the Shenandoah family against the leadership of the Oneida Nation, but Deer said he now doubts that either faction is involved in the crime.

Indian Country Today interviews with investigators also indicated that the probe does not appear to be heading toward members of the opposition either.