Oklahoma court overturns another death penalty, cites McGirt

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma appeals court on Thursday overturned the death sentence of a man who was convicted of killing a teenager, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the state lacks jurisdiction for crimes committed on tribal reservations in which the defendants or victims were tribal citizens.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction and sentence of Miles Sterling Bench, 30, in the 2012 beating death of 16-year-old Braylee Henry inside a convenience store in Velma, about 70 miles (115 kilometers) south of Oklahoma City, where Bench worked.

Prosecutors say Henry entered the store to purchase a soda and candy when she was attacked. Her body was later found on property owned by Bench’s grandparents. Bench worked in the store.

The state court found that Bench is a member of the Choctaw Nation and that the crime occurred on land within the historic Chickasaw Nation reservation.

The court has now overturned at least four death sentences and could toss as many as six more based on the Supreme Court ruling, known as McGirt.

The overturned cases now fall to federal authorities to pursue. Court records show Bench has been charged in federal court with kidnapping resulting in death and faces a potential death sentence.

The court records do not list an attorney who could speak on Bench’s behalf.

Although federal prosecutors have the authority to pursue the death penalty, the tribal nation must also agree and only one — the Sac & Fox Nation of Oklahoma — has explicitly authorized the death penalty in federal cases.

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