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Homicide in Tulsa 'first real test' of Supreme Court decision affecting criminal jurisdiction on Indian land

Homicide in Tulsa 'first real test' of Supreme Court decision affecting criminal jurisdiction on Indian land

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A Tulsa man was accused in the death of his girlfriend, a Cherokee Nation citizen, the day after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that redefined what federal and state prosecutors have historically known as “Indian Country.”

Authorities arrested James Michael Landry, 29, in connection with the fatal shooting of Crystal Bradley, 45, Tulsa Police Lt. Brandon Watkins said. Landry was charged Monday in federal court on a complaint of first-degree murder in Indian Country, according to court documents.

Tulsa police were dispatched about 11 a.m. Friday to Philpott Park, 1114 W. 37th Place, where Bradley was found with a gunshot wound. Emergency responders pronounced her dead at the scene.

“The day after the Supreme Court ruling that eastern Oklahoma’s an Indian Reservation, we had our first real test of how this will work,” Watkins said.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld challenges from two American Indians who claimed criminal cases prosecuted against them in state court should have been tried in federal court because Congress never disestablished the 19th century boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation.

The decisions mean Oklahoma prosecutors lack the authority to pursue charges against American Indian defendants in much of eastern Oklahoma, including the city of Tulsa.

Since statehood, state courts have heard criminal cases where jurisdiction was considered to be on nontribal-owned land, while federal courts have handled “major crimes” that occurred on tribally owned land, referred to as “Indian Country.”

Tulsa Police Department’s Homicide Unit and federal authorities began talks after the court ruling on how to proceed; however, Watkins said Friday’s homicide forced them to learn “on the fly.”

Landry’s tribal affiliation, if any, was unavailable Monday. Tribal enrollment, prior to the Thursday ruling, was not a regular part of the investigative process, he said.

“We’re going to have to work this out and come up with some processes, and obviously one of the first questions we’re going to have to (start asking) is whether our suspects are Native American or not,” Watkins said.

Tulsa police requested federal and Muscogee (Creek) Nation Lighthorse Police assistance to investigate the death.

A 911 caller told dispatchers that a man ran up to him and said “he needed help because his girlfriend was going to die,” according to a criminal complaint.

Landry was standing over the woman when emergency responders arrived. Investigators then detained Landry for questioning. The woman had sustained a gunshot wound to the head, and investigators located a shotgun nearby under some sticks.

“(Landry) admitted that he was holding the gun when it went off,” investigators state in the criminal complaint. “He claimed that the victim put the gun in her own mouth as they argued and that it was unintentional.”

Landry allegedly acknowledged that he had previously pointed the firearm at the victim.

Watkins drew an analogy to bank robbery investigations. While a bank robbery is a federal crime, Tulsa police still investigate those types of robberies. The Homicide Unit will continue to investigate homicides; however, homicide cases involving tribal members will go to federal prosecutors instead of state prosecutors.

In Landry’s case, federal and Tulsa police investigators consulted with Muscogee (Creek) Nation Lighthorse Police, and “it was determined” that Tulsa police would assist in the investigation, according to the criminal complaint.

“The United States Attorney’s Office is pursuing this case consistent with our new responsibilities following the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision,” said U.S. Attorney Trent Shores. “The cooperation among tribal, local, state and federal law enforcement is as strong as ever in northeastern Oklahoma.”

Landry is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in Tulsa federal court on Thursday.

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​Harrison Grimwood


Twitter: @grimwood_hmg


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