A convicted Oklahoma killer’s death sentence was overturned because of a landmark US Supreme Court ruling

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Thursday the state did not have the jurisdiction to prosecute Shaun Bosse, who was sentenced to death in 2012 for the murders of 24-year-old Katrina Griffin, her 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter because the victims were members of the Chickasaw Nation and the murders took place on the reservation.

The appeals court cited the Supreme Court’s landmark July 2020 ruling in McGirt vs. Oklahoma, in which the justices ruled 5-4 that a broad swath of the state was Native American land for the purposes of federal criminal law. According to federal law, crimes that involve Native Americans on a reservation are subject to federal, not state, jurisdiction.

CNN has reached out to an attorney for Bosse for comment.

District Attorney Greg Mashburn, who prosecuted Bosse, told CNN in an interview Friday that federal prosecutors will assume jurisdiction in the case.

“I’m devastated for the family (of Bosse’s victims),” Mashburn said. “They can’t heal. They’re just going to have to go through this whole process again. I’m just really upset for them and hate that they’re going to have to sit through another trial.”

The district attorney said the appeals court had their hands tied because of the McGirt decision. The result, Mashburn said, was “Bosse, who’s as White as a sheep, gets to benefit by the people he chose to brutally murder.”

Mashburn’s office anticipated the ruling, he said, so in recent months it has worked with the US Attorney’s Office to help prepare federal officials to prosecute Bosse.

According to Mashburn, Griffin’s family still supports the death penalty for Bosse. It remains unclear whether federal prosecutors would pursue capital punishment, particularly under a new presidential administration and Justice Department.

Additionally, though federal prosecutors can prosecute and seek capital punishment for certain crimes committed in Native American territory, tribes can opt in or out of the federal death penalty, an authority often referred to as the “tribal option.”
The Chickasaw Nation said prosecutors were “working to ensure smooth transition of the Bosse case from state court to federal and potentially tribal proceedings.”

“Our hearts remain steadfast with the family this man victimized,” Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a statement Thursday. “We are in communication with the United States Attorney and appreciate his assurance that federal charges will be timely filed. We will continue our efforts to see justice done for the victim’s family.”

Supreme Court ruling presents ‘massive problems,’ DA says

While McGirt vs. Oklahoma specifically examined a case that occurred on the land of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma, the appeals court wrote that the Supreme Court’s reasoning applies to other cases in which a defendant claims the state lacked prosecutorial jurisdiction for a crime that occurred on a Native American reservation.

Mashburn said the full scope of the challenges presented by the ruling aren’t fully clear yet, but it has already complicated the jobs of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in jurisdictions that overlap with reservations.

“It’s a huge, complicated issue that’s going to cause massive problems,” said Mashburn, who serves as district attorney for three counties, two of which have been affected by the McGirt decision.

Supreme Court rules broad swath of Oklahoma is Native American land for purposes of federal criminal law
According to the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, 27 of the state’s 77 counties are either wholly or partially within Native American reservations, and in those places, the ruling has stripped the state of jurisdiction and given it to federal or tribal officials.

In an October 2020 letter sent to state officials, tribal leaders and members of Congress representing the state, Attorney General Mike Hunter said that in all of 2017, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma indicted only three crimes related to Indian country.

But in the few months following McGirt, the office had been referred 571 such cases. It’s not clear how many of those cases resulted in indictments.

Hunter and other state leaders have called on Congress to pass new legislation allowing Native American nations to enter cooperative agreements with the state, allowing them to work together in these cases. The Attorney General reiterated that call Thursday in response to rulings in Bosse’s case and another with a similar outcome involving a separate inmate and the Cherokee Nation.

“Crimes are being committed every day on lands now recognized to be reservations,” Hunter said, “and today’s decisions only place greater burdens on federal resources that are already stretched.”

Acting US Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma Robert Troester said in a statement the office had been working with law enforcement at all levels since the McGirt decision to “protect those living within the boundaries of the Chickasaw Nation.”

“Our office will continue the ethical, vigorous, fair, and impartial enforcement of the laws of the United States for the benefit of our communities,” he said.

Source: CNN – US News

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