His case helped get other inmates free, but here's why he will remain behind bars

mcgirt
Source: MEGA; Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Sep. 7 2021, Published 9:32 a.m. ET

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Jimmy McGirt took the state of Oklahoma to the U.S. Supreme Court and won a landmark ruling that resulted in other inmates' freedom. However, he will remain behind bars for life.

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U.S. District Judge John Heil handed McGirt, 72, three life sentences without the possibility of parole last month for two counts of aggravated sexual abuse in Indian Country and one count of abusive sexual contact in Indian Country.

McGirt had initially been serving two 550-year prison terms in an Oklahoma prison after the state convicted him for the 1997 first-degree rape of a 4-year-old child. However, being a member of the Seminole Nation in Oklahoma, the defendant appealed his sentence, claiming the state had no jurisdiction over his case since the crime was committed on an Indian reservation, which was classified as federal land.

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To the amazement of the state of Oklahoma authorities, the U.S. Supreme court agreed with the defendant, thereby tossing his state conviction.

The ruling sent shockwaves across the country, leading many inmates to request their freedom based on the precedent.

"The federal government promised the Creek a reservation in perpetuity. Over time, Congress has diminished that reservation. It has sometimes restricted and other times expanded the tribe’s authority. But Congress has never withdrawn the promised reservation. As a result, many of the arguments before us today follow a sadly familiar pattern. Yes, promises were made, but the price of keeping them has become too great, so now we should just cast a blind eye. We reject that thinking. If Congress wishes to withdraw its promises, it must say so. Unlawful acts, performed long enough and with sufficient vigor, are never enough to amend the law. To hold otherwise would be to elevate the most brazen and longstanding injustices over the law, both rewarding wrong and failing those in the right," stated by Justice Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme majority in statement, according to McGirt vs. Oklahoma.

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The ruling established that the state of Oklahoma had no jurisdiction to prosecute any native Indian. They can only be tried under federal jurisdiction by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Such success of the landmark ruling was the case of Kimberly Graham, who had been sentenced to 107 years in prison for the 2007 DUI hit-and-run killing of five people. However, according to FrontPageDetectives, a Tulsa County judge ordered her release after 12 years due to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling since she was a native Indian. In addition, the federal government was unable to try the case again since the federal statute of limitation would prohibit prosecution.

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Nevertheless, in McGirt’s case, the charges were still within the federal statute of limitation. As a result, Heil still believed he posed a major threat to the safety of society, and he agreed with the prosecution’s recommendation to sentence him above the federal sentencing guidelines.

“Through tremendous cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, our office was able to help provide justice for the victim," Wilson said. "We are elated Judge Heil followed the government’s recommendation and sentenced the defendant to a term of life imprisonment, which was above the advisory sentencing guideline range of 210-262 months. Today’s non-paroleable sentence will ensure the defendant is never be able to victimize another child," according to Courthouse News Service.

The victim, who is now 28 years old, testified and described for the jury the agony she endured at the hands of McGirt twenty-four years ago.

Also, Heil sentenced McGirt to five years each for all three counts, plus the life sentences to be served concurrently.

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