Case Against Father Handed To Federal Court After Supreme Court Ruling

Monday, July 13th 2020, 5:27 pm
By: Amelia Mugavero

TULSA, Okla. -

For the first time, the Tulsa County District Attorney's office has had to dismiss a criminal case because of a new Supreme Court ruling.

After weeks of work and investigation, Tulsa county prosecutors were forced to drop charges against a father accused in the deaths of his children, Ryan and Teagan. 

"It was one of those things that came from left field for my perspective," ​District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said. 

He said his office was ready to take Dustin Dennis to trial and felt strongly about their case. However, on Monday, he learned the children's mother is Cherokee, meaning the children are also Native American. Under last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling of McGirt vs. Oklahoma, the federal government now has jurisdiction over tribal citizens and victims in criminal cases. ​

Dennis' case now belongs in federal court. ​

"The downside is obviously we had to dismiss charges here we have no jurisdiction with Oklahoma law so now its back at the beginning," Kunzweiler said. ​

The case has taken many turns since Tulsa police found Ryan and Teagan dead in their father's truck last month. ​ Police booked Dennis into jail for two counts of second-degree murder. ​New evidence led to Dennis being released on a personal recognizance bond. Then on Friday, the District Attorney's office went ahead and filed the second-degree murder charges against Dennis. 

​Dennis' attorney Stephen Lee said he has already been working on filing a motion with another case. Therefore, he was prepared to bring the argument up in Dennis' hearing. 

"It's something we start preparing for and one of the reasons I was able to get a motion on file so quickly in this case." ​

Lee understands the new ruling will not only affect his office, but hundreds of cases in the future.

"This is going to open up a lot of cases. The state of Oklahoma has been prosecuting tribal members since the inception of the state and it’s been illegal," Lee said. 

Kunzweiler said he's confident the U.S. Attorney's office will take on the case, but says a federal investigation could take more time, especially if a grand jury is involved. ​He says the people who will suffer the most are the victims.

"I can't imagine being the mother of these children and having to go through this roller coaster ride that she's been on," Kunzweiler said. ​

Kuntzweiler said his office did learn a lot from Monday's hearing. He says his officers will now require proof from anyone claiming tribal membership.​

U.S. Attorney Trent Shores released a statement regarding the new SCOTUS Ruling. 

“The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Oklahoma has received a number of media inquiries about its anticipated actions in a variety of state cases that have been or may be dismissed as a result of the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision, including the recently dismissed case State of Oklahoma v. Dustin Dennis. First, as a general matter, the United States does not comment on pending investigations. We do our utmost to protect the integrity and confidentiality of federal Grand Jury proceedings, consistent with Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Second, let there be no doubt that my team of federal prosecutors, legal support staff, victim specialists, and administrative staff are working around the clock right now to pursue justice and help victims of crime. We are doing so in partnership with tribal, state, and federal law enforcement agencies as well as with the Tulsa County and Creek County District Attorneys and the Muscogee (Creek) Attorney General. We want to ensure the citizens of northeastern Oklahoma continue to receive seamless public safety services. Oklahomans have always been good about working together to achieve a common goal. Since the McGirt decision came down, I’ve seen just that – Oklahomans working together to promote continued public safety in this new jurisdictional landscape.”

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