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Federal Court Vacates Native Man’s Death Sentence

A Muscogee (Creek) man’s death sentence has been vacated by a federal court, which found that the state of Oklahoma could not convict because the crime happened on Indian land.

A federal court vacated the death sentence of a Muscogee (Creek) man on Tuesday, August 8, finding the crime took place on Indian land and the state of Oklahoma lacked the jurisdiction to convict him.

Patrick Murphy, 48, was convicted in 2000 of killing another Muscogee (Creek) man, Greg Jacobs, over a dispute involving a woman. Murphy lived with the woman, who had previously been in a relationship with Jacobs. Murphy stabbed Jacobs to death and cut off his genitals, leaving his body on the side of a McIntosh County road.

In its Tuesday ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit found that since the crime occurred between two Native men and took place on tribal lands, the state of Oklahoma did not have the legal authority to try the case.

In a 2004 appeal, Murphy challenged the state's jurisdiction, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled against him, finding the crime happened on state land. In the Tuesday decision, the 10th circuit disagreed with that ruling, finding the crime occurred on Muscogee (Creek) Nation land.

“Mr. Murphy’s state conviction and death sentence are thus invalid,” the 10th Circuit wrote. “The OCCA erred by concluding the state courts had jurisdiction, and the district court erred by concluding the OCCA’s decision was not contrary to clearly established federal law.”

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When an Indian is charged with committing a murder in Indian country, the court wrote, he or she must be tried in federal court.

The state of Oklahoma can appeal Tuesday's ruling, otherwise it will be up to a federal prosecutor in Oklahoma whether to retry the case.

The state is reviewing the decision and will make a determination on how to proceed soon, said Terri Watkins, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office.

Murphy had yet to be given an execution date. Executions have been on hold in Oklahoma after a state court ruled in 2015 the state’s execution protocol needed to be overhauled, following a series of failures that include a botched execution, an execution using an unauthorized drug, and a drug mixup that halted another death sentence.

Oklahoma has not carried out a lethal injection in over two years, its longest gap since the mid-1990s.