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Ex-Cop Faces Federal Murder Charge After Seeking Release Under High Court Ruling

Federal prosecutors announced Friday the murder indictment of a former Tulsa cop convicted in state court for killing his daughter’s boyfriend, but who is now demanding his release after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling invalidated Oklahoma’s criminal jurisdiction on Native American tribal lands.

TULSA, Okla. (CN) — Federal prosecutors announced Friday the murder indictment of a former Tulsa cop convicted in state court for killing his daughter’s boyfriend, but who is now demanding his release after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling invalidated Oklahoma’s criminal jurisdiction on Native American tribal lands.

Shannon James Kepler, 60, of Tulsa, was convicted of manslaughter in 2017 and sentenced to 15 years in state prison for shooting and killing Jeremey Lake, 19, after being tried four separate times.

Kepler asked for his conviction to be vacated after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in July that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation boundaries were never dissolved by Congress, meaning only federal prosecutors can prosecute crimes on tribal lands. Kepler is a member of the tribe and the killing took place on Oklahoma tribal lands.

“Under our Constitution, states have no authority to reduce federal reservations lying within their borders,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the 42-page opinion. “Just imagine if they did. A state could encroach on the tribal boundaries or legal rights Congress provided, and, with enough time and patience, nullify the promises made in the name of the United States. That would be at odds with the Constitution, which entrusts Congress with the authority to regulate commerce with Native Americans, and directs that federal treaties and statutes are the ‘supreme Law of the Land.’”

A federal grand jury charged Kepler Thursday with one count of first-degree murder in Indian Country, one count of causing death with a firearm during a crime of violence and one count of assault with a dangerous weapon in Indian Country. The indictment states Kepler shot Lake several times and that he also shot at an unidentified, minor Native American male.

U.S. Attorney Trent Shores said Friday that Lake’s life was “senselessly cut short” by Kepler and that the “need to pursue justice remains” after the Supreme Court’s ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma.

“Our victim specialists are communicating with Jeremey’s family and will be with them every step of the way as this case moves forward in federal court,” Shores said in a statement. “Our prosecutors have worked hand in hand with our partners at the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office to ensure this young man and his family experience a full measure of justice.”

Republican Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter appeared to have reached a solution to the criminal jurisdiction question one week after the McGirt ruling. He announced on July 16 a deal with the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations that reaffirmed the Five Nations’ criminal jurisdiction over Native American offenders while the state kept criminal jurisdiction over all offenders in the same areas.

But the deal was publicly rejected within hours by the Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations.

Overwhelmed by a flood of appeals by state inmates seeking to vacate their convictions post-McGirt, Hunter asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in August for guidance. He argued that the convicts waited too long to file their McGirt appeals while also arguing that he is not trying to undermine tribal sovereignty.

“The McGirt case does not constitute a get-out-of-jail free card,” Hunter told reporters on Aug. 3. “We are not going to allow our justice system to be exploited by people who have murdered, raped or committed other crimes of a serious nature while the federal government considers to re-arrest or adjudicate their cases.”

Categories: Courts Criminal Law

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