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Man at center of US Supreme Court decision sentenced to life

The U.S. Supreme Court tossed McGirt's Oklahoma state conviction due to Congress never dissolving reservation lands, meaning state has no criminal jurisdiction. Thousands of post-conviction appeals have clogged state courts since, with convicts demanding their immediate release.

(CN) — Jimcy McGirt — the Oklahoma man who’s state conviction resulted in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that led to thousands of other convicts demanding their release — was sentenced to life in federal prison Wednesday on child rape charges.

U.S. District Judge John Heil in the Eastern District of Oklahoma sentenced McGirt, 72, concurrently on two counts of aggravated sexual abuse in Indian Country and one count of abusive sexual contact in Indian Country.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Wilson said Wednesday McGirt is not eligible for parole and that the sentencing “will ensure the defendant will never be able to victimize another child” again.

“We are elated Judge Heil followed the government’s recommendation and sentenced the defendant to a term of life imprisonment, which was above the advisory sentencing guideline range of 210-262 months,” Wilson said in a written statement.

McGirt was originally convicted in Oklahoma state court in 1997 of first degree rape of a four-year-old child and sentenced to two 550 year terms in state prison. One of his appeals argued that Congress never dissolved the Native American reservation his crimes took place on and that Oklahoma therefore lacks criminal jurisdiction in his case.

McGirt is a member of the Seminole Nation and his crimes took place on Muscogee (Creek) Nation land. The U.S. Supreme Court stunned Oklahoma officials in July 2020 when it ruled 5-4 in McGirt’s favor and tossed his conviction, setting off a domino effect of thousands of other state convicts with similar circumstances filing post-conviction appeals demanding their release from Oklahoma prisons.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor and Governor Kevin Stitt, both Republicans, have implored Congress to pass legislation to allow Native American nations to compact with the state on sharing criminal jurisdiction, but no deal has materialized. In that absence, federal prosecutors have been forced to intervene and file federal charges to stop the release of violent criminals on a post-conviction technicality.

Federal prosecutors in Tulsa were forced to charge former Tulsa cop Shannon James Kepler with murder in November after he filed his own McGirt appeal. Kepler, 60, was convicted of manslaughter in 2017 and sentenced to 15 years in state prison for shooting and killing his daughter’s boyfriend, Jeremy Lake, 19. Kepler is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the killing took place on tribal lands.

Federal charges are also pending in the high-profile case of Shaun Bosse, a death row inmate convicted of killing girlfriend Katrina Griffin and her two young children Christian Griffin and Chastity Hammer in 2012. All three victims were Chickasaw Nation members while Bosse is not. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled 5-0 in March to toss Bosse’s conviction under McGirt. Bosse was soon after transferred to federal custody and was assigned to a federal public defender.

In spite of tossing Bosse’s murder convictions, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled two weeks ago that McGirt does not apply retroactively to pre-existing convictions. The high court cited the “disruptive and costly consequences” of voiding hundreds of convictions and the emotional toll on crime victims.

“We cannot and will not ignore the disruptive and costly consequences that retroactive application of McGirt would now have: the shattered expectations of so many crime victims that the ordeal of prosecution would assure punishment of the offender,” the 31-page opinion stated. “[T]he trauma, expense, and uncertainty awaiting victims and witnesses in federal re-trials; the outright release of many major crime offenders due to the impracticability of new prosecutions; and the incalculable loss to agencies and officers who have reasonably labored for decades to apprehend, prosecute, defend, and punish those convicted of major crimes; all owing to a longstanding and widespread, but ultimately mistaken, understanding of the law.”

The Muscogee Nation applauded McGirt’s life sentence late Wednesday evening as marking “justice served in a new era of affirmed tribal sovereignty and jurisdictional clarity” while criticizing state officials’ hand-wringing over McGirt.

“What is here for all to see today is an affirming reality that flies in the face of a continuing dissonance of chaos and fear-mongering from the State of Oklahoma,” the Muscogee said in a written statement. “This case, along with others, proves that implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in the landmark case that bears McGirt’s name is working for all Oklahomans.”

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