Tribal land is factor in appeal
Crime: Oklahoma death row conviction fought

By Chris Casteel Modified: May 10, 2007 at 9:47 am •  Published: May 10, 2007
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WASHINGTON — An Oklahoma death row inmate's claim that his crime was committed on American Indian land seeks to reverse a century of understanding about the dismantling of reservations in the state, the U.S. Justice Department says.

The Justice Department is urging the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear an appeal from Patrick D. Murphy, who was convicted in state court of mutilating and killing a man on a rural McIntosh County road in 1999.

Murphy claims that he and his victim, George Jacobs, were Creeks and that the crime took place on Creek land and he should have been prosecuted in federal court. A state district court and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals already have rejected the argument.

Murphy's appeal makes two different arguments about the land on which the crime was committed: that it was Indian land because a small fraction of the mineral rights — though none of the surface rights — was still in Indian control.

And he argues that if the fractional mineral right ownership doesn't establish it as Indian land, the land is Indian country under the federal definition of a reservation.

The state and federal government have operated for more than a century on the understanding that the state has jurisdiction to prosecute offenses committed by Indians on non-Indian land in eastern Oklahoma, the government says.

"Accepting (Murphy's) contrary view would call into question the jurisdictional validity of numerous criminal convictions,” the government argues.

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