Murphy v. Royal

A jury convicted Patrick Murphy of murder in Oklahoma state court and imposed the death penalty. In August 1999, Murphy lived with Patsy Jacobs; Jacobs was previously in a relationship with the victim, George Jacobs. Murphy had an argument with her about George, and said he was “going to get” George Jacobs and his family. A passerby found George Jacobs in a ditch with his face bloodied and slashes across his chest and stomach. His genitals had been cut off and his throat slit. Murphy allegedly confessed the killing to Ms. Jacobs, and he was later arrested and tried. On appeal, Murphy asserted he was tried in the wrong court: he challenged the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma state court in which he was convicted and sentenced, contending he should have been tried in federal court because he was an Indian and the offense occurred in Indian country. To this point, the Tenth Circuit agreed and remanded to the district court to issue a writ of habeas corpus vacating his conviction and sentence. The question of whether the state court had jurisdiction was straightforward but reaching an answer was not. Parsing the issue involved review of: (1) federal habeas corpus review of state court decisions; (2) Indian country jurisdiction generally; (3) Indian reservations specifically; and (4) how a reservation can be disestablished or diminished. In this case, the Oklahoma court applied a rule that was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court law. Congress has not disestablished the Creek Reservation; the crime in this case occurred in Indian country; Murphy was an Indian and because the crime occurred in Indian country, the federal court has exclusive jurisdiction. Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction. The Tenth Circuit therefore reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions to grant Murphy’s application for a writ of habeas corpus. View "Murphy v. Royal" on Justia Law