Oklahoma father facing federal charge for children’s hot car deaths

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TULSA, Okla. (KFOR) – In a case that has seen a few twists and turns, an Oklahoma father is now facing a federal charge for the deaths of his children.

According to a criminal complaint, 31-year-old Dustin Lee Dennis fell asleep on June 13 and woke up several hours later to find his children dead in the backseat of his pickup truck.

A neighbor’s surveillance system allegedly showed Dennis leaving his home alone at around 12 p.m. for 11 minutes to head to a QuikTrip. When he returned home, he said he fell asleep.

During that time, surveillance cameras captured the children trying to get into his truck at 1:22 p.m. when the vehicle’s alarm went off.

Seven minutes later, they successfully got into the truck.

Dennis was then seen leaving his apartment and looking for the children around 5:32 p.m., which is when he made the tragic discovery.

Mugshot of Dustin Dennis
Dustin Lee Dennis

Earlier this week, Dennis was charged in Tulsa County with two counts of second-degree murder.

However, those charges were dismissed due to a lack of jurisdiction following a recent ruling by the United States Supreme Court.

On July 9, the Supreme Court ruled that much of eastern Oklahoma, including a large chunk of Tulsa, is still tribal land.

The children, who were 3-years-old and 4-years-old, were members of the Cherokee Nation, making it the first case affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“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 a result, the case was handed over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Following the Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt, the Tulsa County District Attorney dismissed state charges against Dustin Dennis for lack of jurisdiction. District Attorney Kunzweiler communicated to my office his intent to do so, and we immediately prepared to receive and review the case file. Upon review of the facts and evidence by the FBI and federal prosecutors, we filed a Complaint alleging felony child neglect by Mr. Dennis. Our review of the facts and evidence is ongoing, and we will determine whether other violations of federal law should be presented to a federal grand jury for their consideration.

This is a tragic set of facts. Our mission now is to pursue justice for the two child victims by holding Mr. Dennis accountable in a court of law. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has a team of Victim Coordinators who will work with the mother of the deceased children as this case proceeds through the federal system.”

U.S. Attorney Trent Shores

Dennis is now facing a charge of felony child neglect for the children’s deaths.

Officials say the U.S. Attorney’s Office still has to present the charge to a federal grand jury within 30 days for an indictment.

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