OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Native American man convicted in Oklahoma of first-degree murder and another who pleaded guilty to manslaughter had their convictions vacated because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that much of the eastern part of the state remains a reservation on which tribal members are subject to federal and tribal law, not state law.
The moves were part of an effort to vacate the convictions of Native Americans prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced in Oklahoma’s state courts. The court’s 5-4 landmark ruling Thursday in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation case means that Oklahoma prosecutors lack the authority to pursue criminal cases against American Indian defendants in the eastern half of Oklahoma that includes most of Tulsa, the state’s second-largest city.
After the Creek ruling, justices vacated the convictions of Joe Johnson Jr., who had been serving a life sentence for a fatal shooting in Seminole County, and Travis Wayne Bailey, who had been serving 36 years in prison for killing a man in a vehicular crash while Bailey was high on methamphetamine. They and two convicted sex offenders have won new trials, The Oklahoman reported.
Justices had delayed action on the four appeals until handing down their Creek ruling involving Jimcy McGirt, 71, who is serving a 500-year prison sentence for child molestation. He could be retried in federal court, as could Patrick Murphy, who was convicted of killing a fellow tribe member in 1999 and sentenced to death.
However, Murphy would not face the death penalty in federal court for a crime in which prosecutors said he mutilated the victim and left him to bleed to death on the side of a country road.
Justices concluded that Congress had never officially terminated the reservations’ autonomy before combining what had been the Indian and Oklahoma territories into the state of Oklahoma in 1907, leaving the federal courts in charge of judging and punishing crimes on the reservations.