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Man who admitted killing adoptive mother sentenced in federal court but will return to state prison to serve out life term
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Man who admitted killing adoptive mother sentenced in federal court but will return to state prison to serve out life term

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A Welch man who admitted to killing his adoptive mother in 2011 was sentenced Friday to serve a 45-year federal prison term after a state court threw out his Craig County murder conviction and life without parole prison term and then reinstated it.

Michael Joe Rice, 58, pleaded guilty July 7 in Tulsa federal court to the second-degree murder of Ruth Rice, 81, after a grand jury had indicted him in April on first-degree murder and aggravated sexual abuse charges in Indian Country.

The plea deal, which required judicial approval, called for Rice to serve a 45-year prison term. He could have faced up to life in federal prison. But because of jurisdictional issues that played out in the courts, Rice will be returned to state prison to serve out his life without parole sentence.

“Michael Rice brutally assaulted his mother and left her for dead,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson. “His actions were heinous and inexcusable. I am thankful for the state and federal investigators and prosecutors who have worked diligently since 2011 to hold this killer accountable for his crimes.”

For the past nine years, Rice has been serving a life without parole sentence in state custody after pleading guilty to first-degree murder in Craig County District Court.

Rice challenged his conviction and sentence earlier this year on grounds that he could not be tried by a state court due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision in 2020.

The McGirt ruling determined that the state of Oklahoma has no jurisdiction to charge someone with a major crime when the crime involves an American Indian and it occurred within the 1860s-era reservation boundaries of the Muscogee Nation.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has since expanded the McGirt ruling beyond the Muscogee Nation reservation to include five other tribal nation reservations, including that of the Cherokee Nation.

Rice is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and the killing occurred within the Cherokee reservation.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in March initially threw out Rice’s conviction and judgment, citing McGirt.

The court overruled itself in September and reinstated Rice’s conviction and no-parole sentence after determining that the McGirt ruling did not apply to cases after the inmate’s direct appeal had been exhausted.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tulsa said in a news release that Rice will be returned to Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ custody, where he will serve out his state prison sentence.

curtis.killman@

tulsaworld.com

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