The Muscogee (Creek) Nation judicial and legislative building in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Photo: Rdlogan05

Muscogee Nation citizen seeks dismissal of murder charge as boundary case heats up

A citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is waiting to hear whether his murder case will be dismissed as industry interests in Oklahoma flock to court in a closely-related reservation boundary case.

Shannon Kepler, a former police officer, argues that he cannot be prosecuted by the state for the 2014 death of Jeremy Lake. Since he is a newly enrolled tribal citizen and since the incident occurred within the reservation boundary, he believes the state lacks jurisdiction.

A judge was scheduled hear arguments on the issue on Friday morning, The Associated Press reported. But the hearing was postponed due to the "court's illness," according to records in Kepler's case.

Kepler filed his motion to dismiss after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is part of the federal system, affirmed the boundaries of the original Muscogee Reservation. The August 8 decision came in a different murder case involving a tribal citizen but the outcome is making big waves in Oklahoma.

The state has already asked the court to rehear the case. Supporting the request are a slew of industry interests: the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau Legal Foundation, the Environmental Federation of Oklahoma, the State Chamber of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Municipal League.

The court has invited the Muscogee Nation, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Seminole Nation to submit a response as well. The tribes participated in the case to defend the boundaries of the original Muscogee Reservation and their views were embraced by the 10th Circuit in its unanimous decision.

If the ruling stands, the defendant would be subject to federal prosecution since he is a tribal citizen and since the crime at issue occurred within the reservation boundary. Patrick Dwayne Murphy is accused of murdering George Jacobs, another Muscogee citizen, in 1999.

The Department of Justice is paying attention and is weighing whether to take a stand in the case. A September 25 filing said the decision could have a major impact on criminal cases in Oklahoma.

"[W]hile the court’s decision addresses only the Creek Nation Reservation, its reasoning may also be applicable to the reservations of similarly-situated Oklahoma tribes and thus result in a sea change in law enforcement in nearly all of Eastern Oklahoma," government attorneys wrote on Monday.

If the government decides to file a brief, it must be filed by October 10, the court said in an order issued on Wednesday.

Read More on the Story:
Hearing delayed for ex-officer who wants murder case tossed (The Associated Press September 29 2017)
State asks appellate court for rehearing of decision in murder case involving tribal jurisdiction (The Tulsa World September 21, 2017)
Judge to hear motions to dismiss Shannon Kepler murder case on Sept. 29 (The Tulsa World September 8, 2017)

10th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Murphy v. Royal (August 8, 2017)

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