The nation’s highest court Monday declined to hear the appeal of a convicted murderer — leaving intact an Oklahoma ruling that appeals related to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision cannot be applied retroactively to undo a final conviction.
Clifton Parish, convicted of second-degree murder in southeastern Oklahoma, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court asking if the court’s McGirt v. Oklahoma decision applies retroactively to convictions prior the 2020 ruling.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decided in August 2021 not to allow defendants an appeal based on the McGirt ruling if a final order was issued prior to the Supreme Court decision. That ruling remains after the nation's top court declined to hear appeals from Parish and two others Monday.
“We are hopeful that this is the first step in having the McGirt decision overturned or clarified and limited. Even without retroactive application, McGirt has opened prison doors and let violent criminals go free," Attorney General John O’Connor said in a press release.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt's office declined to comment.
Choctaw Nation Director of Public Relations Randy Sachs reiterated the tribe supports the OCCA ruling and referred to a previous statement on the issue of retroactivity.
“All Five Tribes wrote in support of this decision, and we are pleased by the ruling," Choctaw Nation said in an August press release. "Most importantly, this is a positive result for the victims of crimes and their families, because in many cases it means they will avoid being re-victimized by new trials. We remain committed to prosecuting people who commit crimes on Indian land.”
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state conviction of Jimcy McGirt, who was retried in federal court and sentenced to life in prison, in July 2020 — ruling Congress never “disestablished” the reservation status of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
OCCA in 2021 applied the ruling to the Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Quapaw Nations.
In August 2021, OCCA ruled in Matloff v. Wallace that “because it is a new procedural rule” McGirt “is not retroactive and does not void final state convictions.”
Mark Matloff, the district attorney for Pushmataha County, asked OCCA to overturn Associate District Judge Jana Wallace’s decision granting Parish’s application for post-conviction relief and order to dismiss the charge against Parish.
In the 4-0 opinion written by OCCA Judge David Lewis, the judge wrote the “costly consequences” of retroactive application of McGirt include “the trauma, expense and uncertainty awaiting victims and witnesses in federal re-trials; the outright release of many major crime offenders due to the impracticability of new prosecutions; and the incalculable loss to agencies and officers who have reasonably labored for decades to apprehend, prosecute, defend and punish those convicted of major crimes; all owing to a longstanding and widespread, but ultimately mistaken, understanding of law.”
Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor called the August 2021 ruling by OCCA “a significant victory” for the people of Oklahoma and said that thousands of cases would have had to be retried if the state lost the case.
“This is a day where justice for some of the victims was restored,” O’Connor said. “We are all safer because a significant number of perpetrators will remain behind bars. Make no mistake, McGirt will continue to have disastrous effects throughout the state even despite this latest ruling.”
Parish, 38, was convicted of second-degree murder in Pushmataha County District Court in 2012 and sentenced to serve 25 years imprisonment with Parish’s conviction and sentence becoming final in June 2014.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday also denied to hear the appeals of Gary Compelleebee and Keith Davis who also petitioned the court for a decision on retroactivity.
Compelleebee, 40, pleaded guilty in Okmulgee County District Court in 2005 to counts of first-degree robbery, grand larceny, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Compelleebee’s judgement and sentences were revoked in 2014 and was sentenced to serve 10 years imprisonment for the robbery count.
Davis, 80, was convicted in Latimer County District Court in 2004 on counts of forcible sodomy and lewd or indecent proposal to a child under 16 and was sentenced to consecutive 20- and 15-year sentences of imprisonment.
OCCA ruled that both Compelleebee’s and Davis’ convictions were final prior to the July 9, 2020 decision in McGirt.
Court records Davis was federally indicted in April 2021 on one count of sexual abuse of a minor in Indian Country before the indictment was dismissed without prejudice in June 2021 following OCCA’s ruling.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not released a decision on whether to revisit it’s decision in McGirt.
CNHI Oklahoma State Reporter Janelle Stecklein contributed to this report.