Criminal Justice

Ray Carter | May 3, 2024

With child rapist set to walk free, Stitt warns of ‘two-tiered’ justice system in Oklahoma

Ray Carter

The child rapist whose case led to the U.S. Supreme Court effectively re-establishing Indian reservations across eastern Oklahoma is set to walk out of prison a free man, something that would have never happened if his original trial as an Oklahoman in state court had been allowed to stand.

Gov. Kevin Stitt said the pending release of Jimcy McGirt shows Oklahoma now has, in effect, two separate justice systems—one for tribal citizens that often imposes far more lenient sentences on criminals, and one for everyone else.

“This guy is a child rapist,” Stitt said. “He should still be in prison. We had him in prison until his defense attorneys came up with a crazy, crazy scheme that he shouldn’t be tried as an Oklahoman in Oklahoma courts. This is what I’ve been trying to let people know, that there’s a two-tiered system of justice now, depending on your race.”

McGirt was tried in state court and found guilty in 1997 of first-degree rape by instrumentation, lewd molestation, and forcible sodomy, and sentenced to 500 years in prison and life in prison without parole.  His victim was a four-year-old.

Years later, McGirt’s attorneys argued Oklahoma courts lacked jurisdiction to hear his case because of his membership in the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and because the crimes occurred in Indian Country. McGirt’s legal team argued the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation in Oklahoma was never officially dissolved and crimes committed in the tribe’s historic reservation lines must be tried in federal court, rather than state courts.

In 2020, in a narrow 5-4 decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with McGirt and effectively recreated several tribal reservations across most of eastern Oklahoma when dealing with federal major crimes law, including much of the Tulsa area.

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling, McGirt’s state sentence was vacated and his case was tried in federal court. That process ended with McGirt being sentenced to only 30 years with credit for time served. He is expected to be released from custody in about one month.

Stitt, who is Cherokee, has been a vocal critic of the McGirt decision and the unequal treatment it allows based on citizens’ race.

Stitt said he was “really shocked” to hear that McGirt would be released so quickly from prison, and said he hears of similar injustices “all the time.”

“There (were) three bad guys beat up an 85-year-old man, almost killed him,” Stitt said. “And two guys are still in prison. One gets out because of the McGirt decision. So you’ve got the same crime on the same day. Two people are still in prison and one gets out because of their race. That’s un-American. That’s not justice for all.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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