The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday issued a series of rulings ordering the dismissal of multiple cases at the state level based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction to handle them.
Among the cases dismissed was that of 28-year-old Arnold Dean Howell, whom Tulsa federal prosecutors announced Thursday afternoon faces a complaint of first-degree murder in Indian Country. A news release from Tulsa-based acting U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson states Howell is an enrolled tribal member and is accused of a crime within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s jurisdiction.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is expected to present the charge to a federal grand jury within 30 days.
The appellate court also ordered two cases in Tulsa County dismissed: a child abuse case against Grant Jackson IV, as well as a first-degree murder case against Jordan Mitchell. Both were convicted in jury trials.
In three unpublished opinions, the judges did not remark on other legal claims raised in the appeals, citing them moot after finding Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction to pursue charges. Each decision will take legal effect in 20 days.
In McGirt v. Oklahoma, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Creek Nation was not disestablished for purposes of enforcement of the federal Major Crimes Act. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals said last week the precedent also applies to cases involving crimes within the boundaries of the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations.
Judges Gary Lumpkin and Robert Hudson attached largely similar concurrences to each of the rulings released Thursday acknowledging the U.S. Supreme Court’s position on the issue. But Lumpkin, in his writing, claimed the opinion is flawed and took the position — based on dissents from U.S. Supreme Court justices in the McGirt case — that “all parties accepted” tribal reservations were disestablished in practice by the time of Oklahoma Statehood.
Hudson contended in his concurrence that the McGirt case has had a “far reaching impact” on the state’s legal system and again called for Congress to form a “practical solution” to the situation.
Creek County prosecutors had stipulated to Howell’s tribal enrollment status and the location of the reported incident being within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s boundaries. Howell’s state appeal records indicate he attempted to withdraw his guilty pleas based on the severity of the sentence he received — life without parole — and a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Howell is accused in federal court of stabbing a man multiple times during a 2015 robbery in Sapulpa, during which Howell and his sister reportedly took the man’s car, wallet, watch, rifles and laptop.
In Jackson’s and Mitchell’s cases, court records show prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed both were enrolled Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizens at the time they were charged with committing crimes within the tribe’s 11-county area.
Mitchell was accused in state court of first-degree felony murder in a September 2013 robbery that occurred near 71st Street and Memorial Drive in Tulsa. A jury found him guilty in September 2017 and he had received a life sentence.
Tulsa World archives state that Jackson was charged with subjecting his then 4-year-old son in November 2014 to scalding bath water that, due to the extent of the boy’s burns, prosecutors said required treatment at a specialty hospital in Texas.
A jury in 2016 recommended a four-year prison term, which Jackson completed in 2019.
McGirt v. Oklahoma: Supreme Court decision and aftermath