Oklahoma Murder Convict Escapes Death Penalty Citing Tribal Citizenship
DENVER, Colorado - A man convicted of first-degree murder will no longer face the death sentence after a federal appeals court in Denver, Colorado, ruled the state of Oklahoma can't prosecute him.
The decision says that since the man is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and the murder happened in Indian Country, he can only be tried by the federal government.
Patrick Murphy was found guilty of the 1999 murder of George Jacobs by a jury in McIntosh County.
A judge sentenced him to death.
Now, that conviction has been thrown out, as a federal appeal court decision says Murphy should have been tried in federal court -- not state -- because of his tribal citizenship.
Oklahoma law enforcement agencies are already trying to figure out exactly how they'll deal with it.
"If the ruling stands, there's a lot of things that need to be taken into consideration, not just the law enforcement angle of it," said Kiefer Police Department Chief Johnny O'Mara. "Where do we take them, who has ultimate authority? Under what authority would I as a police officer be working under?"
This ruling would expand what is known to be Indian Country, impacting Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and potentially other tribes, too.
Indian Country spans 11 counties in Oklahoma, including Tulsa County, which means cases tried right here could be impacted if the ruling stands.
O'Mara said this decision will not stop police departments from doing their job and keeping their communities safe.
"If you commit a crime, you're going to be arrested. Which jurisdiction you go to, which court is going to have jurisdiction over you, that's the question that needs to be solved," O'Mara said.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation released a statement saying the decision "affirms the right of the Nation and all other Indian Nations to make and enforce their own laws within their own boundaries."
O'Mara said he's already working with Creek Nation Lighthorse Police to discuss a cross-commissioning agreement.
This will let them have the same authorities within their jurisdictions, so they'll work hand-in-hand moving forward.