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Oklahoma court upholds death sentence in 2009 slayings

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A state appeals court on Thursday upheld the conviction and death sentence of a man on death row, ruling that the land in southwest Oklahoma where the murders were committed was not Indian Country because the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation there was formally disestablished by Congress.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the murder conviction and death sentence of 41-year-old Mica Martinez for the October 2009 slayings of Carl Miller, 64, and Martha Miller, 55, at their home in the Comanche County community of Cache.

Martinez had argued the state of Oklahoma didn’t have jurisdiction in the case because he is a member of the Comanche Tribe and the killings occurred within the boundaries of the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation that existed in southwest Oklahoma.

The issue of state jurisdiction on tribal lands led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as the McGirt decision, that held the Muscogee Nation reservation in northeast Oklahoma was never disestablished by Congress. Since then, lower courts have found the reservations of five other Native American tribes were also never disestablished, including the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole and Quapaw.

But in Martinez’s case, the district court in Comanche County held a hearing specific to the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation and determined that reservation was formally disestablished by Congress in the early 1900s.

“In cases long before McGirt, both the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and this Court had concluded that the Act of 1900 disestablished the Kiowa Comanche Apache Reservation, citing the language confirming complete tribal cession, transfer, conveyance, relinquishment, and surrender of all tribal claims to their reservation lands,” the Oklahoma appeals court wrote in its opinion.

Messages left Thursday with Martinez’s public defender and an attorney for the Comanche Nation were not immediately returned.

The appeals court ruled that even if the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation had not been disestablished, Martinez would not have been granted relief under McGirt because the court determined the ruling would not apply retroactively to void convictions that were already final when the McGirt case was decided.