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Man at center of McGirt landmark legal case sentenced to 3 life sentences
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Man at center of McGirt landmark legal case sentenced to 3 life sentences

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MUSKOGEE — A judge on Wednesday sentenced a defiant Jimcy McGirt, whose landmark case rewired the legal system in much of Oklahoma, to serve three federal life sentences for his three child sex abuse convictions.

U.S. District Judge John F. Heil III, while upholding the prosecution’s request for a longer sentence than recommended by federal guidelines, ordered McGirt, 72, to serve the life terms concurrently, meaning at the same time.

“This court in good conscience cannot subject the public to the defendant’s predatory ways,” Heil said before sentencing McGirt.

McGirt was sentenced after a federal jury on Nov. 6 found him guilty of three felonies related to the sex abuse of a 4-year-old in 1996 following a three-day trial in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.

McGirt continued to maintain his innocence Wednesday, telling Heil, “I know how to plead guilty when I’m guilty of something,” referring to his guilty plea in an earlier sex abuse case involving two young boys.

“If I had really done that, I would hate myself,” McGirt said in a rambling statement before being sentenced.

He was retried in federal court after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that Congress never disestablished the Muscogee Nation reservation, which dates to the 1860s.

The ruling meant McGirt and other American Indians involved as either the defendant or victim in crimes within the Muscogee Nation’s historical 11-county reservation must be tried by either the federal or tribal government instead of by the state.

Before his state conviction and sentence were overturned, McGirt had received two 500-year sentences and one life-without-parole term after he was convicted in Wagoner County District Court in 1997 of sexually abusing the 4-year-old left in his care.

McGirt and the victim are members of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, and the abuse occurred at a home in Wagoner County that is within the Muscogee Nation reservation.

After his state conviction was overturned, a federal grand jury indicted McGirt on Aug. 17, 2020, on two counts of aggravated sex abuse of a minor in Indian Country and one count of abusive sexual contact with a minor in Indian Country.

The indictment alleged that McGirt sexually abused the 4-year-old girl while the girl’s grandmother, who was married to McGirt at the time, worked and the child’s mother was away on vacation.

The three-day trial featured testimony from the victim, 28 at the time, who recalled McGirt sexually abusing her three times and telling her he would “get in trouble” and her grandmother wouldn’t love her anymore if she told anyone what happened.

The victim testified during McGirt’s sentencing hearing regarding how her life has been affected since she was abused.

The woman told the judge that she has recently been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and that she used to let people “walk over me.”

The woman said she was “done doing that” and was now speaking out “for people who can’t speak up for themselves.”

“People like Jimcy McGirt deserve to be put away forever,” she said.

Likewise, the victim’s mother urged the judge to sentence McGirt to a life sentence.

“He wants to be free,” the mother said of McGirt. “She’s never going to be free” she said, referring to her daughter.

The U.S. Probation Office, which makes sentencing recommendations based on federal guidelines, suggested that McGirt serve a prison term ranging from 210 months to 262 months.

But prosecutors asked Heil to go beyond federal recommendations and sentence McGirt to life in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah McAmis argued in a court filing that McGirt qualified for an increased prison sentence because his conduct toward young children was anything but run-of-the-mill.

She also noted that had McGirt committed the crimes about one month later, he would have been subjected to revised sentencing recommendations that required a life sentence.

McAmis also wrote in the court filing that McGirt previously served just two years of a five-year prison term after he was convicted of sodomizing two young boys in Oklahoma County in a 1988 case and “clearly attempted to groom a third boy into compliance.”

“He has single handedly caused a lifetime of damage to multiple young children,” McAmis wrote of McGirt. “The leniency that the defendant was shown at the time of his first convictions for sexually abusing children obviously served as an ill-effective deterrent.”

McAmis noted to the judge Wednesday that McGirt’s lack of remorse for his crimes “is stunning.”

But McGirt’s attorney, Richard O’Carroll, argued in court filings that federal prosecutors were seeking revenge against his client for successfully arguing that the state did not have jurisdiction to try him in the first place.

“The government disclaims the notion of punishing Mr. McGirt for upending criminal jurisprudence in Oklahoma, still an undercurrent of anger and retribution pervades this case,” O’Carroll wrote.

“The Attorney General and county prosecutors are holding rallies blaming the courts. News articles of supposed injustice are in the national media,” he continued.

Rather, O’Carroll suggested that prosecutors were “offering the court a political fig leaf” by departing from federal sentencing guidelines to “reimpose a hopeless sentence on an old man for an event that occurred decades ago and for which, in some instances, he has been brutally otherwise punished,” in reference to beatings by other inmates McGirt said he has suffered while behind bars for the past 23 years.

Since the Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling, a state appellate court has ruled both that the historic reservations of four other tribes — the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole — also qualify for revived reservation status and that the federal ruling was not retroactive, meaning the ruling did not apply to those with past state convictions.

The ruling was issued after dozens of state cases were overturned and refiled in federal court based on the McGirt ruling.

Barring another successful appeal, McGirt likely will die in prison, since parole has been abolished in the federal prison system.

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Featured video: McGirt forum gets noisy: How many cases can the feds handle?

A panel of district attorneys July 13 focused on the U.S. Supreme Court decision's unintended consequences. DA Matt Ballard tries to explain the challenge of feds taking over.

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