Johnson W. Greybuffalo

Johnson Wade Greybuffalo (born April 21, 1974), is a full-blooded Ojibwa Indian who made nationwide news in 1994 when he committed a burglary that culminated in the murder of a 5-year-old girl.

On the night of July 22, 1994, Greybuffalo broke into an apartment on the first floor of the same building in Green Bay, Wisconsin in which he resided on the second floor. Finding a folding chair in the yard, he placed the chair under a window which was slightly open, then climbed on the chair to let himself in, first cutting the screen with a straight razor he was carrying, then reaching through the opening in the screen thus created to push the storm window up. This put Greybuffalo in a bedroom which was unoccupied; he then exited this room and entered the living room, where he looked for items to steal, finding a large purse, which, when opened, revealed the presence of two smaller purses inside the large one. Inside one of these were some food stamps, which he took. He then proceeded from the living room through a kitchen area, and opened a door at the far end of the apartment and discovered that this door led to another bedroom, with several people sleeping inside. He then hastily closed this door, trying to make as little noise as possible, then went back to look around for more items he could take.

At some point thereafter, it is alleged, five-year-old Nancy Thao came out of the bedroom and happened upon Greybuffalo, whereupon the latter produced a knife and stabbed her several times, causing her death. Remembering that he had seen some keys in the purse he had discovered earlier, Greybuffalo removed two sets of keys from it, one of which enabled him to start one of two vans the victim's family owned and had parked outside. After carrying the victim's body out of the building and dumping it in a garbage can next to the apartment building's garage, Greybuffalo drove off in the van he could start using the keys he had taken, and fled to Madison, Wisconsin, where he was apprehended two days later.

In 1995, Greybuffalo was found guilty following a jury trial of first-degree intentional homicide and was sentenced to life in prison. He appealed the conviction, but it was affirmed in a ruling handed down by the state Court of Appeals on April 30, 1996. In addition, Nancy Thao's parents, Tou and Xee Thao, who are immigrants from Laos, filed a civil suit against Greybuffalo, receiving a judgment in their favor in excess of $1 million, though this action must be considered largely symbolic as Greybuffalo, sentenced to life behind bars, is never likely to be able to pay even a fraction of the amount awarded.

The case aroused shock and anger in the local community since crimes of this nature are extremely rare in Green Bay, but also underscored the difficulties that many Native Americans have encountered in recent times throughout the American Midwest, which include alleged racial discrimination and high rates of poverty and alcoholism.

Sent to the Green Bay Correctional Institution to serve his sentence, Greybuffalo heavily immersed himself in the rituals of his Ojibwa nation, which eventually led to his filing a federal lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections on October 8, 2003, accusing prison officials of infringing upon his right, under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (which became law in 2000) and also the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, to practice his tribal religion. On November 4, 2003, Chief Judge Barbara Crabb of the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin issued a ruling dismissing some of the charges contained in Greybuffalo's suit, and set a tentative trial date in early 2005 to hear arguments on the remaining allegations. The case is officially known as Greybuffalo v. Frank.


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