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Oakhurst woman admits to 2019 strangulation death

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An Oakhurst woman will serve 15 years in prison after she pleaded guilty Friday in federal court to voluntary manslaughter in Indian Country and attempted arson in connection with a 2019 strangulation death.

Jessica Lavon McBride, 30, admitted she strangled Tracy Elaine Russell, 49, on March 17, 2019, at Russell’s home in the 4900 block of North Johnstown Avenue after the pair argued over food stamps.

McBride also admitted to trying twice, unsuccessfully, to burn down the home that contained Russell’s body.

The binding plea agreement with prosecutors, still subject to a district judge approval, calls for McBride to also serve three years of supervised release in addition to the prison time.

The plea agreement, among other factors, took into account McBride’s alcoholism and “intoxicated state at the time of the murder.”

“Jessica McBride stayed in the home of the victim, and in return, she took her life because of missing food stamps,” said U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson. “My office and our law enforcement partners at the Tulsa Police Department and FBI will continue to hold perpetrators, like McBride, accountable for their criminal acts.”

Russell had previously allowed the defendant and her boyfriend to stay with her in exchange for assistance with groceries but later asked the two to leave her Tulsa residence.

Prior to this month, McBride had faced federal second-degree murder as well as attempted arson and evidence destruction charges in Tulsa federal court.

Federal prosecutors filed a felony information Sept. 12 that dropped the evidence destruction charge and reduced the murder charge to manslaughter.

A superseding felony information filed Monday mostly mirrored the Sept. 12 information.

McBride, reading from a prepared statement, told the U.S. Magistrate Susan Huntsman Friday that she “killed (Russell) by strangling her until she died” and tried to set fire to Russell’s home.

A federal grand jury originally indicted McBride in April 2021 on charges of second-degree murder, attempted arson and attempted evidence destruction.

The federal case followed the dismissal of state first-degree murder charges against McBride in March 2021 on jurisdictional grounds.

At the time, state district and Oklahoma appellate criminal courts were dismissing criminal cases if either the victim or the suspect was an American Indian and the crime occurred within one of six recently recognized tribal reservations.

In McBride’s case, Russell was an American Indian while McBride is not. The crime occurred within the Cherokee Nation reservation.

The dismissals were in keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 McGirt decision and companion state appellate court rulings, the latter of which expanded the original ruling from the Muscogee Nation reservation to include the Cherokee and four other tribal nations.

However, in June, the U.S. Supreme Court, with its decision in the Oklahoma v Castro-Huerta case, reaffirmed Oklahoma’s right to prosecute non-American Indians when they victimize tribal members on one of the six reservations.

A sentencing date has not been set for McBride, who has been in custody since her initial arrest in March 2019.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said through a spokeswoman that his office was monitoring the federal sentencing proceedings before deciding on whether to resume their prosecution of McBride in state court.

The federal charge of voluntary manslaughter carries a prison term of up to 15 years while prison time for an attempted arson conviction ranges from five to 20 years.

curtis.killman

@tulsaworld.com

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