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Federal appeals court orders release of a man sentenced to death

The court ruled the Oklahoma district court did not have jurisdiction in the case because the killings happened on Indian land.
BY ROBERT BOCZKIEWICZ Modified: June 14, 2013 at 9:17 pm •  Published: June 15, 2013

An appeals court Friday ordered the release of a man sentenced to death in an Oklahoma court for three Seminole County murders, but said federal authorities can put him on trial for the crimes.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 Friday that the Seminole County District Court did not have jurisdiction because the murders David Magnan was convicted of committing were on Indian land.

Magnan is illegally being held in state custody “because jurisdiction over Magnan's crimes rests exclusively with the United States, rather than the state of Oklahoma,” the judges wrote in a 36-page decision.

“Given the nature of the crimes and Magnan's admitted guilt, we presume that federal authorities will arrest and try Magnan following his release from state custody,” wrote the judges of the Denver-based court.

Magnan pleaded guilty in state court to the 2004 murders of Lucilla McGirt, Karen Wolf and James Howard at Howard's rural home in an ongoing family dispute.

Feds have jurisdiction

Federal courts — not state courts — have jurisdiction for major crimes on Indian land. Magnan now has a better opportunity to avoid the death penalty because death sentences are imposed less frequently in federal courts than in state courts.

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