In November 2016, Emmitt Sam, 17, and Nathan Simmons, 16, carjacked multiple victims in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Their crime spree culminated in the murder of Johnathan Stephens, 27.
In 2017, Sam was sentenced to life in prison, while Simmons was sentenced to fifty-five years.
Sam and Simmons were both members of what police say is an “African American gang.” There are American Indian street gangs in Tulsa, but Sam joined a Black gang instead.
Sam’s mother is a member of the Cherokee Nation. She applied for membership for her son, but the application was rejected multiple times.
An appellate court has overturned Sam’s murder conviction and life sentence. The court ruled that Oklahoma state courts have no right to charge, convict, or sentence someone with partial American Indian ancestry. They cited the 2020 Supreme Court ruling on McGirt vs. Oklahoma and said the state had no right to charge and try him. Even though Sam is not even a member of a tribe, he never lived on a reservation, did not commit the murder on a reservation, and probably self-identified as Black when he committed the murder.
The 2020 McGirt vs. Oklahoma ruling concerned the Muscogee Tribe, but appellate courts have already expanded the ruling to include other tribes. This created a nightmare for Oklahoma district attorneys. The Oklahoma Attorney General is currently fighting to get McGirt vs. Oklahoma reversed or amended.
The federal government will now have to step in and conduct a whole new federal trial for Emmitt Sam.