Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has asked a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision to overturn a man's murder convictions and death sentences.
The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that Oklahoma lacked authority to prosecute David Magnan for a 2004 shooting that left three people dead and a fourth injured at a house in rural Seminole County.
The court concluded that the tract of land where the house was located was technically Indian country at the time of the shooting and that the authority to prosecute Magnan rested exclusively with the federal government.
In legal papers filed on June 27, Pruitt's office urged the appeals court to schedule a new hearing in the case and expressed concern that the decision could lead to a variety of practical and legal conflicts between the state and federal governments due to the potential for “checkerboard” jurisdictions.
“Petitioner admits he committed three murders,” the 10-page rehearing request filed by Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Crabb says. “Petitioner certainly did not choose the location of the murders based on a belief that he was committing the murders in Indian country. In fact, when the murders were committed, the land had been determined to belong to the jurisdiction of the state.”
Magnan, 50, pleaded guilty in Seminole County District Court to three counts of first-degree murder and one count of shooting with intent to kill. He was sentenced to death on each murder count and received a life sentence on the remaining count.
All the victims of the March 3, 2004, shooting except one were members of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.
Magnan, a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, appealed his convictions and sentences, claiming that the incident occurred on Indian land and, therefore, Oklahoma could not prosecute him.
The federal court's decision rested largely on the conveyance history of land that was originally part of a 200-acre property allotted in the early 20th century to a full-blooded member of the Seminole Nation. The property passed to that member's heirs, one of whom decided to buy the other heirs' stake in the land and build a home there in 1970. The killings took place at that home.
However, the heir who built the home never obtained approval of the secretary of interior, as required by law, to remove restrictions on the portions of the property that were purchased. Because of that, the purchased property was still considered Indian land, the court ruled.
In its rehearing request, Pruitt's office questions whether Magnan can challenge conveyances involving land in which he has no interest and that likely could not be set aside by anyone who has an actual interest in the property.
“It is likely that there is a lot of property in Oklahoma that was conveyed without proper approval,” the attorney general's office said. “If, as here, a total stranger to the land can challenge the validity of a 40-year old conveyance, the ownership of many parcels of land may be in doubt.”
The federal appeals court ordered that Magnan be released from state custody, but a three-judge panel said they presumed federal authorities would arrest and prosecute Magnan “given the nature of the crimes and Magnan's admitted guilt.”
Magnan is being held on death row at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.