Two former Tulsa County residents now serving life sentences in state prison for murder have been indicted for related crimes in federal court due to a court ruling involving tribal jurisdictions.
Ashley Lorene Parnell, 38, and Jose Tyler Vaught, 28, were both named in unrelated grand jury indictments unsealed Monday in Tulsa federal court.
Both cases are linked to the McGirt U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2020 which determined that crimes involving an American Indian that occur within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation were not the jurisdiction of the state of Oklahoma, but rather the Creek Nation and the federal government.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office continues to charge defendants, like Ashley Parnell and Jose Vaught, whose previous state convictions for violent offenses have been or will likely be overturned based on the Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v Oklahoma,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson.
“Federal prosecutors understand the immense and historic responsibility placed upon them and are acting with purpose. I could not be more proud of their commitment to victims and their families and to the pursuit of justice.”
Parnell now faces one count of first-degree murder in Indian Country in Tulsa federal court.
Parnell was living in Jenks in March 2008 with Skyler Roininen and his father when the 23-month-old died, one day after being taken to an area hospital by ambulance.
The cause of death was blunt trauma to his head. His injuries included an 8-inch skull fracture and brain swelling.
Tulsa County prosecutors theorized Parnell, who did not testify at her state trial, slammed Skyler’s head against the floor prior to changing this diaper.
Parnell has been serving time at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud. She claims to be a member of the Quapaw Tribe and the crime occurred within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
Federal prosecutors have been filing charges in McGirt-related cases before a state inmate is released on jurisdictional grounds in order to avoid the inmate’s being released to the public.
Prosecutors have opposed Parnell’s request that the case be overturned on the grounds that her jurisdictional claim had been available previously, but she failed to seek it.
“McGirt did not change the law, but merely applied it to the Creek Reservation and reached a conclusion inconsistent with what has been assumed about Oklahoma since statehood,” Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney James Dunn wrote in a January court filing.
Dunn contends that Parnell’s jurisdictional claim should be dismissed because she could have raised it earlier but didn’t.
Parnell responded that the law on subject matter jurisdiction is clear.
“The law on subject matter jurisdiction never being waived is well settled and in fact is not waivable,” Parnell wrote in a reply to the state’s brief.
Documents submitted on Parnell’s behalf indicate she is a member of the Quapaw Nation.
Vaught, meanwhile, is challenging his 2017 first-degree murder conviction in Tulsa County District Court on McGirt grounds, too.
Vaught now faces in federal court one count of first-degree murder in Indian Country and one count of causing death by use of a firearm during a crime of violence.
A Tulsa County jury convicted Vaught and recommended a life prison term in connection with a 2015 fatal shooting at a north Tulsa party.
Prosecutors contended Vaught shot Jose Aguirre, 20, four times in the back during a party in the 2600 block of East Newton Place.
In addition to the life sentence, a judge also ordered Vaught to serve a 15-year prison term and separate three-year term after he completed his life sentence.
Vaught claims in court filings that he has been a member of the Cherokee Nation since 1993 and the crime occurred within the tribe’s reservation, two elements that a state appellate court has said can be used in determining whether McGirt applies to a case.