Supremes Shelve Tribal-Recognition Spat Spurred by Oklahoma Murder

WASHINGTON (CN) – Closing out the term with one case still undecided, the Supreme Court said Thursday it will hold new arguments on a death-row inmate’s bid to legally reclassify a large swath of eastern Oklahoma as a Native American reservation.

Image credit: Muscogee (Creek) Nation via Smithsonian Institution

Sentenced to death for killing a man who had been involved with his then-girlfriend, Patrick Dwayne Murphy has focused his appeal on arguing that the land where he committed the murder was set aside as a Creek reservation in an 1866 treaty.

A member of the Creek Nation, also known as the Muscogee, Murphy said this meant his case should have been tried in federal court, where the death penalty would not have been on the table. 

The Supreme Court heard arguments on the case back in November but announced Thursday that it would set the case for reargument.

Just days after the case was argued, the justices asked for additional briefing from the parties to answer two additional question about the peculiarities of the area in which Murphy committed his crime. 

Murphy is represented by Patti Ghezzi, a federal public defender in Oklahoma City. Ghezzi did not immediately return a request for comment on the decision.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office said in a statement Thursday it was looking forward to rearguing the case.

“This case has implications for millions of Oklahomans, both tribal and non-tribal citizens,” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said in a statement. “It is vital to the state that the Supreme Court justices make the right decision on behalf of all Oklahomans. While today’s court action does not alter the status quo, it demonstrates the care and consideration the justices are putting into this case.” 

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