It could be the first of many to come as a Garvin County case ended last week with a convicted defendant being released from prison on the argument that Native American tribes, not the state of Oklahoma, has the jurisdiction.

Clarissa Mars, 26, was the defendant given her freedom after a hearing in a Pauls Valley courtroom on the basis tribes have the final say in some Oklahoma cases with a Native American connection.

In some cases that might mean a new trial in federal court, while others like Mars are released from prison immediately because of the jurisdiction issues.

It all stems from last year's McGirt decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, followed just weeks ago by the reversal of the McClain County murder convictions and death row status for Shaun Bosse by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

Both decisions say most of Oklahoma, including Garvin County, is still legally recognized as Native American land because tribal reservations were never dissolved by the U.S. Congress.

Even though last week's ruling here was not unexpected, members of Mars' family are just glad to have her back home and out of prison after nearly four years behind bars.

“We were taken aback by the McGirt decision and then we waited for Bosse to come down just so we could ensure that every question was answered. We had done everything that the state required us to do,” said Michelle Johnson, who is Mars' mother.

“I didn't think it would happen. We didn't hire an attorney for McGirt but for Clarissa, so we were extremely surprised when it did happen.

“All we wanted is for her to get back to having a future. Now she has that.”

Mars ended her prison term on March 30 after proving in court that she has Native American descent, is a member of a tribe and the offenses putting her behind bars occurred on what is now recognized as Indian lands.

Mars had originally been charged with committing lewd acts with a 15-year-old girl. Mars was 18 at the time, according to court records.

After taking a plea deal in 2015 Mars was given a suspended sentence, which two years later was revoked because a number of violations of the sentence was reported. In the summer of 2017 she was given a five-year prison term.

During all of that time Johnson said the Pauls Valley community as a whole has continued to support Mars and her family.

“Our community has been incredible. It has continued to support her. The whole LGBT conversation is tough to have in a small community,” Johnson said, referring to the lesbian aspect.

“Even though it's a tough conversation it hasn't stopped them from supporting us and loving us. Nobody has been mean and cruel. They've just supported us through this whole thing.

“Our church contacted us and asked that we be at the services on Sunday. They wanted us to know that she is welcome and they were hoping we all could be there. They were welcoming her with open arms.”

Johnson adds her daughter “did a lot of good things” while in prison, including building a softball field that's now been named for her.

Despite last week's decision falling in her daughter's favor, Johnson knows first-hand these cases involving Native American jurisdiction have families on both sides with heartache sure to come for someone regardless of the result.

Over time Johnson says she's reached out to families of murder victims hoping to help with the strong emotions sure to be there knowing the convicted killer could get a new trial or even be released because of this new jurisdiction law.

“It's a double-edged sword. Your heart breaks for the people going through this, but at the same time you can't help but celebrate this,” she said, referring to last week's court decision for her daughter.

The decision for Mars' post conviction relief request was a difficult one to argue as Garvin County Assistant District Attorney Corey Miner found out.

Both sides agreed in court Mars could show she had a Native American blood quantum of 1/64, she's a member of the Citizen Potawatomi tribe and any offenses occurred on Indian lands.

“This is just the beginning,” Miner said.

“We're going to see instances of injustice at the highest levels with murderers, rapists and other criminals walking out of the penitentiary because of this.

“It's outrageous. This is something that's continuing the victimization of crime victims.”

Miner is also concerned about the impact on the victims of lesser crimes, such as thefts which may or may not be prosecuted with an effort to help victims get compensation.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter did file a motion last week requesting the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reconsider the state’s case against Bosse after the court ruled the state did not have jurisdiction to prosecute him because the victims were Native American and the murders took place within the boundaries of the Chickasaw Nation.

In the petition, the attorney general writes a rehearing is warranted because the court overlooked arguments and authority offered by the state and reached a conclusion that conflicts with the state’s post-conviction statutes.

Hunter indicated the request has nothing to do with challenging tribal sovereignty.

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