OCCA overturns McAlester man's murder conviction

Sep. 28—The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the second-degree murder conviction of a McAlester man citing the state not having criminal jurisdiction in the matter.

Bryce Miller, 18, was originally found guilty of second-degree murder by imminently dangerous conduct in the shooting death of 16-year-old Jaylen Nelson by a Pittsburg County jury following a five-day trial in March 2020.

Attorneys for Miller maintained throughout the trial that Miller acted in self-defense with prosecutors saying that Miller could have stopped at any moment in between each of the 11 fired shots and called an ambulance to save Nelson.

The jury recommended 20 years in the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. District 18 Associate District Judge Brendon Bridges, of McIntosh County, followed the jury's recommendation.

Attorneys for Miller filed an 89-page brief with nine “major errors” allegedly made during the trial with proposition one being the state lacked jurisdiction to prosecute Miller because the alleged crime occurred within the jurisdictional boundaries of the Choctaw Reservation and Nelson was an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation.

The Appeals Court ordered Bridges to hold an evidentiary hearing in the matter with the state and defense stipulating to Nelson being a Native American with the crime occurring within the Choctaw Reservation.

OCCA ruled that because Nelson was a Native American, the state of Oklahoma did not have the proper jurisdiction to prosecute Miller.

“The ruling in McGirt governs this case and requires us to find that the District Court of Pittsburg County did not have jurisdiction to prosecute Miller,” OCCA wrote in its ruling.

The court's mandate to vacate and dismiss Miller's conviction will not go into effect until 20 days to give the U.S. Government time to file a charge against Miller.

A motion to stay and abate the proceedings filed by the Attorney General's office was denied by the court.

“The state maintains it has concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute Miller, a non-Indian, for the murder of an Indian and ask the court to reserve ruling in this case pending the outcome of the ongoing litigation concerning concurrent jurisdiction,” OCCA wrote. “We continue to reject the state's concurrent jurisdiction argument.”

OCCA ruled in April 2021 to apply the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma to the Choctaw Nation, which gives the federal government exclusive prosecutorial power in cases involving Native Americans defendants and victims within tribal lands, such as the Choctaw Nation, per the 1885 Major Crimes Act.

An August ruling by OCCA that McGirt cannot be applied retroactively does not apply to Miller as it is his first appeal.

OCCA's retroactive ruling only applies to cases where the defendant has exhausted all appeals and a final judgement issued.

Contact Derrick James at djames@mcalesternews.com

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