Criminal Justice

McGirt ruling freeing criminals with little Indian heritage

August 17, 2021

Ray Carter

The State of Oklahoma has filed numerous petitions for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, highlighting cases state officials say demonstrate the need for the court to reconsider and overturn its ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which effectively decided that Indian reservations comprise most of eastern Oklahoma.

In McGirt, the court ruled the Muscogee Nation’s reservation was never disestablished and that major crimes involving American Indian victims or perpetrators on reservation land cannot be tried by state officials. The ruling has since been expanded to include the reservations of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole nations, covering most of eastern Oklahoma.

The state petitions show that McGirt is now forcing the retrial and potential release of convicted criminals whose heritage is predominantly something other than American Indian.

In its petitions, the state argues that “reconsideration of McGirt is the only realistic avenue for ending the ongoing chaos affecting every corner of daily life in Oklahoma. This case presents yet another opportunity to end the damage caused by McGirt.”

Grant N. Jackson, IV, was convicted of child abuse by injury, receiving a four-year prison sentence. On Nov. 1, 2014, a four-year-old child in Jackson’s care soiled his pants. In response, Jackson submerged the lower half of the boy’s body in a scalding hot bath. When Jackson took the child to Hillcrest Hospital, the state petition notes the child’s “burns were so severe that the skin was coming off.” The boy “sustained a second and third degree burn to thirty percent of his body, involving both his legs, his genitals and the sides of his thighs, as well as his buttocks and the front of his pubis … The burn pattern was symmetrical on both legs and in a straight-line distribution on either side of his body,” which state officials noted “indicated that the boy “was forcibly immersed into hot water.”

Following McGirt, Jackson’s conviction was vacated because he “has 17/128 Indian blood and was enrolled in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation at the time of the offense.” The crime also occurred on the Muscogee Reservation, which includes a substantial part of Tulsa.

William Clayton Brown was sentenced to life imprisonment after stabbing to death 21-year-old Damion Martin on September 15, 2017. Brown’s conviction was vacated after McGirt because he “had 9/128 Indian blood” and was a member of the Choctaw Nation at the time of the crime, and the crime occurred within the Muscogee reservation.

Donta Keith Davis was sentenced to life imprisonment for robbery with a dangerous weapon and assault with a dangerous weapon after he robbed Arvest Bank in Tulsa on March 8, 2018. Davis’ conviction for armed robbery came after former conviction for two or more prior felonies.

Davis’ sentence was vacated because he “has 3/32 degree Creek blood” and was an enrolled member of the Muscogee Nation at the time of the crime. Davis’ crime was also committed in Tulsa on the Muscogee Reservation.

Christopher Jason Hathcoat was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Terry Wetselline in August 2016. Hathcoat’s conviction was vacated because he “has 1/16 Indian blood,” is a member of the Cherokee Nation and the crime occurred within the Muscogee reservation recognized by McGirt.

Arnold Dean Howell was sentenced to consecutive terms of life without parole and 25 years for first-degree murder and first-degree robbery. On April 13, 2015, Howell murdered 68-year-old Michael Mondier Sr. The state’s petition notes that responding officers “found a terribly bloody scene in Mr. Mondier’s bedroom” and that Mondier “had been stabbed at least ninety-three times.” The murder occurred during a robbery and Howell admitted to asking an accomplice “to get a second knife after the first one broke.”

Howell’s conviction was vacated post-McGirt because he “is an Indian and the crimes occurred within the Creek reservation boundaries recognized by McGirt.”

Jordan Batice Mitchell was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Christian DeHart during a drug robbery in which Mitchell and an accomplice “opened fire” and shot three individuals, fatally wounding DeHart.

Mitchell’s conviction was vacated because he “has a 15/128 Indian blood quantum and was enrolled as a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation on December 5, 1995—before the murder.” In addition, the crime was committed on the Muscogee Reservation.

Shannon James Kepler, a former Tulsa police officer, was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for a 2014 incident in which Kepler shot and killed Jeremey Lake, who was involved with one of Kepler’s adopted daughters. Kepler was convicted of manslaughter in the first degree, but that conviction was vacated because Kepler “has 1/128 Muscogee (Creek) blood” and the crime occurred within the Muscogee reservation recognized by McGirt.

In each petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, the state of Oklahoma argues that “this case presents the question whether McGirt should be overruled,” declaring that McGirt was “wrongly decided, and the Court’s review is urgently needed because no recent decision has had a more immediate and disruptive effect on life in an American State.”