DENVER — 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.
The appeals court said Magnan's release from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary will not occur until the court issues its mandate. A court official said the mandate, a command to put Friday's decision into effect, is normally issued 21 days later unless the state asks the court to reconsider the decision or asks the court to postpone the mandate.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Roberts of the Eastern District of Oklahoma — which includes Seminole County — said, “We're aware of the decision and are reviewing what action, if any, to take” in that district's federal court, which is in Muskogee.
Court records state Magnan asked the state judge who presided at his trial to sentence him to death.