WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted Oklahoma’s request to retain custody of a man who was sentenced to death for killing three Native Americans, a sign the court may be willing to limit the fallout from last year’s ruling that much of eastern Oklahoma remains a tribal reservation.
The action came in the case of Shaun Bosse, whose conviction and death sentence for the murders of Katrina Griffin and her two young children were overturned by a state appeals court.
The order makes it likely that the High Court will soon weigh the scope of its 5-4 decision last year in McGirt v. Oklahoma.
The state court had ruled that state prosecutors did not have the power to try Bosse for the murders, which took place on the Chicksaw Nation reservation, based on the McGirt decision.
Hundreds of criminal convictions, including several death sentences for first degree murder, have been overturned, and tribal and federal officials have struggled to send these cases to tribal or US district courts.
Oklahoma argued in the Supreme Court that it could prosecute crimes committed by non-natives like Bosse, even if the crime scene is on tribal land. The state also said there may be technical legal reasons for denying Bosse’s claims.
The three liberal judges opposed the order but did not explain their disagreement. They were in the majority last year, with Judge Neil Gorsuch, the author of the opinion. Gorsuch did not publicly oppose Wednesday’s order.
The fifth member of the McGirt majority was Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September. She was replaced by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Bosse has previously been charged with the murders in federal court and was due to be transferred to federal custody. But he could not be sentenced to death on federal charges.
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