OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Oklahoma’s highest criminal appeals court tossed out five more first-degree murder convictions on Thursday based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision about criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country.
Two of the rulings by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals also affirm that Congress never formally disestablished the reservations of the Choctaw and Seminole nations and because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in what is known as the McGirt case, the state lacks jurisdiction to prosecute crimes by or against Native Americans inside those historic boundaries.
Combined with similar previous rulings about the reservations of the Chickasaw, Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations, state prosecutors no longer have criminal jurisdiction over crimes involving Indians in nearly the entire eastern half of the state.
Among the latest rulings were decisions to vacate the first-degree murder convictions of Kadetrix Devon Grayson, 28, a Seminole Nation citizen convicted in the shooting deaths of two people in Seminole in 2015; and Devin Warren Sizemore, 26, a Choctaw Nation citizen convicted in the drowning death of his 21-month-old daughter near Krebs in 2016.
Seminole is within the historic boundaries of the Seminole Nation, while Krebs is inside the boundaries of the Choctaw Nation reservation, the court ruled. The other first-degree murder cases thrown out Thursday involved killings inside the reservation boundaries of the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations, which the court had already determined had never been disestablished.
Thursday’s rulings are the latest in a flood of appellate court rulings overturning criminal convictions based on McGirt that have led to a dramatic increase in workload for federal prosecutors who must now retry the cases in federal court. They will remain in custody pending federal proceedings.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said that while Thursday’s rulings were not unexpected, they underscore the need for Congress to pass legislation allowing the state and tribes to reach compact agreements on criminal jurisdiction.
“We need it for Oklahomans, both Native American and non-Native American,” Hunter said in a statement. “Victims of crimes continue to pay the price every day because of the ramifications of the McGirt decision. State law enforcement officials continue to express frustration about their inability to hold criminals accountable. We are facing a situation that will not resolve itself.”
For some less serious crimes, Native American defendants may also be prosecuted in tribal courts. The Choctaw Nation announced Thursday that it has beefed up its tribal prosecutor’s office with six full-time attorneys and is prepared to file more than 125 criminal cases in its district court.
“Our coordination with the state of Oklahoma, district attorney offices within our reservation, and our Choctaw Nation Department of Public Safety should prevent any currently incarcerated individual from being released based solely on a McGirt jurisdictional claim,” said Kara Bacon, a Choctaw Nation tribal prosecutor.