Oklahoma man accused of murder set free after judge says his rights were violated

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OSAGE COUNTY, Okla. - An Oklahoma man is free after he was accused of killing his girlfriend.

He sat in jail for nearly six months without an attorney.

A judge said that violated his right to a speedy trial, so he walks free.

The murder happened on tribal land in Osage County.

The federal government tried to prosecute, but a federal judge dismissed the case because of a problem with the evidence.

Then, the case moved to tribal court where a judge said the man’s constitutional rights were violated, and he let him go.

Thomas Eaves was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend in August of last year.

An autopsy shows 44-year-old Starr Pennington died from multiple blunt force injuries and brain trauma.

The murder allegedly happened near Pawhuska on tribal land in Osage County.

Major crimes committed on tribal land are prosecuted in federal court.

In Eaves’ case, a federal judge said the FBI didn’t follow protocol in Eaves’ arrest, so the case was thrown out.

Eaves was then moved to the Osage County Jail to be prosecuted in federal court, where he sat locked up without an attorney.

“He’s guaranteed the right to a speedy trial just like anyone in state court or federal court would be and, because he had already been in jail for six months with no trial date, the case was dismissed for failure to grant him a speedy trial,” said Klint Cowan.

Cowan is the attorney general for the Kaw Nation.

He said what happened in Eaves’ case is rare.

30 years ago, a state court jury convicted Eaves of second-degree murder for the death of his own father.

He served 13 years in state prison.

Now, he walks free - this time, without his case ever going to trial.

“You have pretty much all the protections in tribal court you'd have anywhere else and, in this case, it turned out the protections helped the defendant walk free,” Cowan said.

No matter what the crime, the maximum sentence in tribal court is three years.

The tribal court prosecutor could appeal the judge’s decision to the Osage Nation Supreme Court.

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