Federal officials in Tulsa have assumed jurisdiction in two more state murder cases that qualify under recent court rulings that deal with crimes on tribal reservations.
Jessica Levon McBride, 28, and Stephon Thompson, 37, are the two latest to see their cases moved from state to federal court following U.S. Supreme Court and state appellate court rulings.
McBride, of Oakhurst, who was facing first-degree murder charges in state court, now faces second-degree murder and arson charges in Tulsa federal court. The charges are linked to the 2019 strangulation death of Tracy Russell, 49.
McBride was charged in federal court after the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday expanded a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling affecting criminal jurisdiction in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
The state appellate court added the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations to the list of tribes deemed to still have existing reservations that date to the 1860s.
The ruling means crimes occurring within the three tribal reservations and involving an American Indian are the jurisdiction of either the federal or tribal governments.
In McBride’s case, federal officials say they have jurisdiction due to the Court of Criminal Appeals’ expansion of the Supreme Court’s McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling to include the Cherokee Nation reservation, since the crime occurred in the 4900 block of North Jamestown Avenue in Tulsa, which is within the Cherokee Nation reservation.
Russell’s citizenship in the Cherokee Nation meant the case qualified for federal charges rather than prosecution by the state.
McBride was charged nearly two years ago with first-degree murder and arson in Tulsa County District Court after she was arrested near the scene of the homicide.
She told investigators she went to Russell’s north Tulsa home on March 17, 2019, to retrieve her belongings after Russell had kicked her out.
She said she argued with Russell and held her in a head lock for about 10 seconds before Russell became unconscious. She said she then left the residence after retrieving her purse and other belongings, not bothering to check on Russell.
An FBI affidavit filed in support of the arrest warrant claims that McBride told others about Russell and asked for help in disposing of the body.
Police discovered Russell’s body three days later at her home after they attempted to check on her welfare. A charred blanket was found on the victim.
McBride was arrested March 20 after she was seen crawling through a window in Russell’s home. In a shopping bag near the window police found a container of camping fuel and a can of lighter fluid.
In the other case, court documents filed Monday name Thompson, of Tulsa, in a first-degree murder complaint linked to the Oct. 15 shooting death of Lionell Rivers in the 200 block of East 52nd Street North.
Thompson, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, drove a vehicle with Clarence Holmes to Rivers’ residence, where the latter two argued briefly before Rivers was shot to death, according to a court affidavit filed in support of Thompson’s arrest.
Holmes, meanwhile, continues to face first-degree murder and other charges in Tulsa County District Court.
McGirt v. Oklahoma: Supreme Court decision and aftermath