Oklahoma’s Attorney General has offered his opinion on a pair of Comanche County murder cases that challenge the Comanche County District Court’s jurisdiction.
The cases are seeking vacation of prison sentences on the basis of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding tribal lands and the Major Crimes Act.
In a nutshell, Attorney General Mike Hunter’s response is the claims are “bupkis” and don’t follow the ruling.
Joshua Tony Codynah, 32, and Micah Alexander Martinez, 39, are slated to have evidentiary hearings in their cases at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday before District Judge Emmit Tayloe.
Codynah entered a blind guilty plea in Comanche County District Court on Sept. 25, 2017, to four felony counts: first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, child neglect and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
Tayloe sentenced Codynah to life in prison for murder, 20-year suspended sentences for the burglary and child neglect charges, and 15 years for the assault, slated to run consecutively to the murder sentence.
Martinez was found guilty on June 18, 2013, of two felony counts of first-degree murder and another count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
The jury recommended and then-District Judge Mark R. Smith concurred in sentencing Martinez to death on all counts.
Both men have sought relief from the courts by citing the July 7 McGirt v. Oklahoma decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. With a 5-4 split, the court ruled that, in pertaining to the Major Crimes Act, much of the eastern portion of the state remains Native American lands as the prior Indian reservations of the Five Civilized Tribes. The ruling hinged on there never being a disestablishment of the reservations as part of the Oklahoma Enabling Act of 1906.
In his brief filed with the court, Hunter said the McGirt decision doesn’t apply with these crimes that happened on what was the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache reservation. He noted the reservation was disestablished by Congress in a 1900 statute and cited this as a prime example of failure as a comparative to the Five Tribes’ reservations.
“This is exactly the kind of explicit language the Supreme Court in McGirt required to disestablishment of a reservation,” Hunter wrote. “[Disestablishment] require[s] that Congress clearly express its intent to do so, commonly with an explicit reference to cession or other language evidencing the present and total surrender of all tribal interests.”
These two cases are among four filed in Comanche County that are attempting to cite the McGirt ruling as reason for sentencing vacations. The outcome of Tuesday’s hearing could offer a preview to rulings in these other cases.
The other four cases are:
In April 2019, Kenneth Lee Camp, 39, pleaded guilty before Tayloe to a felony count of aggravated assault and battery and received a sentence of seven years to serve with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. He’s currently housed at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.
Charles Killsfirst, 51, was granted his appeal on Oct. 14 regarding his 2018 conviction for first-degree burglary, outraging public decency and a misdemeanor count of assault and battery.
Both Camp and Killsfirst are awaiting scheduling for evidentiary hearings.
Written by Scott Rains: email@example.com.