The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday overturned the convictions and sentences for nine inmates based on tribal jurisdictional challenges, including two cases that expand earlier rulings to now include the Choctaw and Seminole reservations.
All nine rulings stem from the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in McGirt vs. Oklahoma in July that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation had never been disestablished by Congress for the purposes of federal criminal law, leaving the state of Oklahoma with no jurisdiction to try cases when an American Indian is involved and the crime occurred within the tribe’s historic boundaries.
The rulings Thursday follow decisions issued in March by the state Court of Criminal Appeals to expand the so-called McGirt decision to include the Cherokee and Chickasaw reservations.
With the rulings Thursday, the original McGirt decision that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation had never been disestablished now applies to any case involving an American Indian when the crime occurred within any of the five tribes’ boundaries that collectively cover all or parts of 52 of the state’s 77 counties.
As with similar McGirt-related rulings, the appellate court gave itself 20 days before it would issue a final order mandating the decisions. The delay is designed to give federal and tribal prosecutors time to review the dismissals and decide whether to file charges in their jurisdiction.
Choctaw Nation officials said Thursday that they were prepared to file more than 125 cases in its district court as it anticipated the appellate court’s ruling.
The Choctaw reservation footprint extends to part or all of 13 Oklahoma counties in southeastern Oklahoma, while the Seminole reservation includes most of Seminole County.
“The Choctaw Nation has been preparing for the shift in criminal case jurisdiction for well over two years,” Chief Gary Batton said in a written statement. “I am grateful for the work of our Public Safety Department, Tribal Prosecutor’s Office, our judicial branch, and the Sovereignty for Strong Communities Commission to protect public safety and to offer individuals a fair and efficient trial.”
In the case dealing with the Choctaw reservation, a published opinion by the appeal court overturned Devin Warren Sizemore’s first-degree murder conviction and life-without-parole sentence in the 2016 death of his 21-month-old daughter in Krebs.
“Although the case now before us involves the lands of the Choctaw Nation, we find McGirt’s reasoning controlling,” the court said in its 20-page opinion.
The appellate court cited a “thorough and well-reasoned” order by a Pittsburgh County District Court judge, who determined that land set aside by the U.S. government in the 19th century by treaty had never been disestablished by Congress, meaning the boundaries of the Choctaw Nation reservation remain in existence.
Krebs is within the boundaries of the Choctaw reservation and Sizemore, 26, is a member of the tribe.
In another Thursday ruling based on similar precedent, the CCA agreed with a Seminole County District Court judge, who ruled the state of Oklahoma did not have the jurisdiction when it tried Kadetrix Devon Grayson in connection with the 2015 shooting deaths of two individuals.
“The record supports the District Court’s findings that the United States has not disestablished the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma Reservation,” the appellate court wrote in his published opinion, which vacated Grayson’s convictions and life sentences.
The appeals court agreed with the district court that Grayson is a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and the crime occurred with the nation’s reservation boundaries.
A Seminole County jury convicted Grayson of first-degree murder in the 2015 shooting deaths of Summer Gokey, 30, and Joseph Bounds, 26.
The trial judge sentenced Grayson, 28, to consecutive life sentences.
Other inmates whose convictions and sentences were overturned Thursday based on McGirt-related claims:
Michael E. Spears: Spears, 57, is serving a life sentence after a Rogers County District Court jury found him guilty in the 2017 sword slaying of Mark McKinney, 51. Spears is a member of the Cherokee Nation and the crime occurred within the boundaries of the tribe’s reservation.
Nacole Ryan Bain: Bain, 39, is serving a life prison sentence after pleading guilty in Okmulgee County District Court to the 2018 first-degree murder of Addison “Add” Waddell, 56. Bain is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the crime occurred within the tribe’s reservation.
Ryan Cortlan Johnson: Johnson, 27, is serving a life prison term after an Okmulgee County District Court jury convicted him of first-degree murder in the 2017 fatal shooting of his cousin, according to published reports. Johnson is a member of the Chickasaw Nation and the murder occurred within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation.
Joseph Stanley Harjo: Harjo, 39, is serving a life prison term after a Muskogee County District Court jury convicted him in a 2016 child sexual abuse case. Harjo is a member of the Creek tribe and the crime occurred within the nation’s reservation.
Robert William Perry II: Perry, 30, is serving three life prison sentences after a Tulsa County District Court jury convicted him in 2020 on five counts of sexual abuse of a child under 12. Perry is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the alleged crimes occurred within the tribe’s reservation.
Floyd Joseph Ball Jr.: Ball, 35, is serving consecutive sentences totaling 44 years in prison after he pleaded guilty in McIntosh County District Court to first-degree rape and kidnapping charges. Ball is a member of the Choctaw Nation and the crime occurred within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation.
Matthew Steven Janson: Janson, 37, is serving two concurrent 10-year sentences with the last five years of each count suspended after he pleaded guilty in 2017 to one count of aggravated possession of child pornography and distribution of child porn. Janson is a member of Cherokee Nation and the crime occurred within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
McGirt v. Oklahoma: Supreme Court decision and aftermath