OKLAHOMA CITY- The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday overturned another state murder conviction because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that much of eastern Oklahoma remains an American Indian reservation.
Chickasaw Nation member Charles Michael Cooper was convicted and sentenced to life without parole for the 2016 death of Cindy Allen, who was found strangled inside her burned home in Pontotoc County on land within the historic reservation of the Chickasaw Nation.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled, in what is known as the McGirt decision, that Oklahoma lacks jurisdiction for crimes on tribal reservations in which the defendants or victims are tribal citizens.
The state court has overturned six murder convictions and the manslaughter conviction of a former Tulsa police officer based on McGirt, in addition to numerous other cases.
The Cherokee Nation said earlier this week that it has filed charges in 440 criminal criminal cases based on the overturned convictions and the Choctaw Nation has said it has filed 125 charges in similar cases.
Major crimes, such as murder, fall to federal prosecutors to pursue and indictments have been issued in some of those cases.
Shannon Kepler, the former Tulsa police officer and member of the Creek Nation convicted on a state charge of manslaughter in the 2014 fatal off-duty shooting of his daughter’s boyfriend in Tulsa, was indicted in November on a murder count in the case. Nacole Bain, also a member of the Creek Nation who pleaded guilty to murder in the fatal 2018 shooting of an Okmulgee County man, was indicted in December on a federal murder count prior to her conviction being overturned April 1.
A federal grand jury has also indicted state death row inmate Benjamin Robert Cole Sr., 56, for murder in the 2002 death of his daughter. Cole’s case has not been overturned, but he is appealing based on McGirt.
State Attorney General Mike Hunter and several tribes say congressional action is needed to allow the tribes and the state to enter compacts to prosecute crimes in Indian Country.