OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A man who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and her two young children will have his case dismissed following a decision by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
Officials say it stems from the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision last summer.
On July 9, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Muscogee (Creek) reservation was never disestablished.
It’s a ruling that has a big impact on the state’s criminal justice system.
“For anybody that has an Indian card, a CDIB card, a certified degree of Indian blood,” Native American law attorney Robert Gifford told KFOR. “If they are within the Creek Nation, the state of Oklahoma had no jurisdiction over them.”
As it stands, these decisions alter the State’s legal jurisdiction and law enforcement capabilities on a significant portion of eastern Oklahoma, creating uncertainty for many Oklahomans.
“In general, the McGirt decision by the United States Supreme Court has created a significant amount of confusion, especially in regards to inmates who are serving time in state custody for crimes committed on historic tribal lands,” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said in August.
After the Supreme Court’s decision, Hunter said his office was flooded with appeals, which he said he would oppose.
“The McGirt case does not constitute a get out of prison free card,” Hunter said. “We are not going to allow our justice system to be exploited by individuals who have murdered, raped, or committed another crime of a serious nature while the federal government considers whether to rearrest or adjudicate their cases.”
Specifically, one filing was in regards to the case involving Shaun Bosse, a man convicted of murdering his girlfriend and her two children.
In 2012, Shaun Bosse was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, 25-year-old Katrina Griffin, and her two young children; 8-year-old Christian Griffin and 6-year-old Chasity Hammer.
In 2010, authorities discovered the bodies of the family in a burned out mobile home near Dibble.
After being convicted of their murders, Bosse was sentenced to death, 35 years for arson and was fined $25,000.
Bosse’s attorneys argued that even though Bosse isn’t a tribal citizen, the victims were Native American and the crime occurred on Chickasaw lands. As a result, they argued the state didn’t have the authority to prosecute him.
“We take the position that the state has a right and a responsibility to protect Indian citizens from those who murder, like Mr. Bosse,” Hunter said.
The decision is particularly frustrating to Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn, whose office prosecuted Bosse.
“He’s benefiting from the people he killed,” Mashburn said. “It would be a travesty of justice if he got anything less than death.”
On Thursday, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the judgement and sentence of Bosse, saying the state did not have jurisdiction to prosecute him since the historical boundaries of the Chickasaw Nation Reservation were never disestablished.
“Today, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the judgment and sentence of Shaun Michael Bosse and remanded the case to the state district court with instructions to dismiss. The court ruled that the State of Oklahoma did not have jurisdiction to prosecute the defendant because the historical boundaries of the Chickasaw Nation Reservation were never disestablished and the victims were Indian. This decision generally expands federal jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute crimes involving Indian offenders or Indian victims arising within the Chickasaw Nation Reservation. Since last year’s Supreme Court decision in McGirt, we have been working closely with our tribal, federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to prepare for today’s decision and to protect those living within the boundaries of the Chickasaw Nation. Our office will continue the ethical, vigorous, fair, and impartial enforcement of the laws of the United States for the benefit of our communities.”Robert J. Troester, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma
State leaders say the result of this decision is that crimes involving tribal members in the 27 counties that are wholly or partially within these reservations will now be prosecuted by federal or tribal authorities.
“We have reviewed today’s ruling by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. Although today’s outcome was not an unexpected result of the McGirt decision, it shows more than ever the need for Congress to pass legislation allowing the state to partner with the Cherokee and Chickasaw Nations on criminal jurisdiction. Both these Nations have also called for Congress to pass such federal legislation. We have successfully compacted on important issues, but compacting on criminal jurisdiction requires federal legislation first. Crimes are being committed every day on lands now recognized to be reservations, and today’s decisions only place greater burdens on federal resources that are already stretched. That is why we are calling on the leadership of the state’s congressional delegation to work with their colleagues to pass legislation to allow state law enforcement to partner with these two tribes to continue their most important job of protecting all Oklahomans.”Joint statement from Attorney General Mike Hunter, Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, and House Speaker Charles McCall
Stephen Greetham, an attorney for the Chickasaw Nation, said Griffin’s family has reached out to the tribe with concerns that Bosse could escape his death sentence. But he says the tribe has no say in that case because Bosse is not American Indian.
“He’s not subject to our jurisdiction, so it’s entirely at the discretion of the federal prosecutor,” Greetham said.
Now, the case will likely be retried in federal court where obtaining a death sentence is much more difficult.
Although federal prosecutors have the authority to pursue the death penalty under certain circumstances, if the killing is determined to have occurred on tribal lands, the tribal nation must also agree to allow the death penalty.
While some Oklahoma-based tribes have indicated they’re considering that option, only one tribe — the Sac & Fox Nation of Oklahoma — has explicitly authorized the death penalty in federal cases.
Former U.S. Attorney Trent Shores said having to retry these cases, particularly some that are decades old, could pose unique challenges because of fading witness memories or stale evidence.
“In theory, a blueprint is there for how to present this case and how to successfully convict this individual, but it’s not without inherent problems because of the time that has passed since the original crime,” Shores said.