TULSA - Anyone living in northeast Oklahoma reading the headline to this story may think it was a mistake, because after all there are Indian nations in Oklahoma, but no reservations.
But the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier this month that in fact, Congress never legally dis-established the Creek Reservation.
The ruling came as the result of an appeal filed by death row inmate Patrick Murphy, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
The murder he was convicted for occurred on Creek land, and so his attorneys argued that the State of Oklahoma did not have jurisdiction.
And because the Creek Reservation still exists, according to the ruling, his attorneys were correct.
The ramifications of that ruling could be far-reaching, according to defense attorney Steve Money.
“It’s a big deal. Now, if I’m a prosecutor, I’ve got to look at that and go ‘I can’t even bring this case,’” he told KRMG Monday.
Already, former TPD officer and murder suspect Shannon Kepler’s attorneys have filed to have his case dismissed, a case that has already ended in three hung juries and is due to be re-tried again in October.
Kepler, it turns out, is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and the crime of which he’s accused happened on land that is part of the reservation.
“Mr. Kepler has a pretty good argument to make,” Money said. “And again it’s not that it’s Tulsa County District Court, it’s just that it occurred in Indian country, part of which covers Tulsa County, so it’s the State of Oklahoma that doesn’t have the authority to potentially try that case.”
Oklahoma Attorney General has indicated he may appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but so far no appeal has been filed.
Meanwhile, Money says as a defense attorney, he’ll certainly be asking his clients if they are members of a Native American tribe.
But he warns that even if the ruling holds, defendants may find themselves facing the same charges, but in a federal or tribal court.
The Muscogee Reservation covers most or all of eleven counties in Oklahoma, including the majority of Tulsa County.