A Historic Supreme Court Ruling Upends Courts in Oklahoma

The fatal shooting that led to Ms. Lipp’s arrest began when a 25-year-old man was lured to her apartment in July 2018 on the promise he would get a kiss in exchange for $100, investigators say. The victim, Dustin Barham, was robbed, shot and bled to death, prosecutors say. Ms. Lipp, her cousin and cousin’s boyfriend have been charged in his killing.

Mr. Gordon, Ms. Lipp’s lawyer, said Ms. Lipp denied any role in the murder, and hoped that moving the case from state court to federal court could lead to a plea deal or re-examination of what he called a flawed case against Ms. Lipp. “We’re better off over there,” he said.

Mr. Barham’s mother, Andra, said she had already waited two years for justice for her dead son, whom she called a “good-hearted person,” and worried that refiling the criminal case in federal court would add years of additional delays.

“We’re looking at starting over,” she said. “It’s frustrating.”

The Muscogee Nation established its court system in 1867, and tribal prosecutors and judges say their courtrooms are the best forums for Indigenous people to get justice and a fair hearing. “We understand these people are going back into our community,” said Muscogee Judge Gregory Bigler.

But they are now confronting a thicket of complications: How will the tribal court in the small town of Okmulgee, home of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s headquarters, handle cases when people are arrested an hour away in Tulsa for shoplifting or low-level drug possession? Does it make sense to spend money jailing them or transporting them to hearings?

“We’re going to have to grow exponentially,” said Shannon Prescott, a Muscogee district judge.

One recent morning, the tribal court was shuffling through the day’s criminal charges and pleas through a video hearing when a bald man in an orange jumpsuit shuffled in front of the camera. He had been arrested in Tulsa on charge of threatening violence, but was brought to the Okmulgee County Jail and handed over to tribal court when the police realized he had an Osage ancestry.

“That would have been a Tulsa case,” Mark Thetford, a Muscogee prosecutor, said. “It’s kind of crazy right now.”

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