Tribal case brings back mother's pain

Livvy Pando (left) and her sister Vivian Pando, now seven and nine years old respectively, pose at the headstone of their late mother, Tonja Pando, who was killed in a 2013 traffic accident. Matthew Imotichey, who caused the accident, now has a hearing date for post conviction relief based on his argument the state of Oklahoma doesn't have jurisdiction over Native Americans on “native territory.” (Courtesy photo)

The thought of a new law possibly leading to a prison inmate being released after causing the 2013 traffic accident that claimed the life of her daughter now has a Pauls Valley mother relieving the worst pain of her life.

Veronica Pando said losing one of her twin daughters, Tonja Pando, was the most painful experience of her life.

Now that pain has come back in full force when Pando learned just days ago the man responsible for her death, Matthew Imotichey, may have the chance to get out of a prison because of a court ruling related to Native American jurisdiction and tribal affiliations in Oklahoma.

“My main concern is he's going to walk out of jail and get away with this,” Pando tells the PV Democrat. “I was told he could walk.

“Part of me died when Tonja died. It's the kind of pain I don't wish on anybody. This is reliving my worst pain.

“If he gets to walk what about me, what about the victims, the family, her children. If he wins and walks it would be the worst pain of my life again.

“That would be the worst pain knowing the man that did this did get out of jail.”

Tonja Pando was 21 years old when she and her unborn baby died after her car collided head-on with the vehicle driven by Imotichey after he huffed compressed air as an inhalant.

The tragedy unfolded Oct. 23, 2013 on the west side of Pauls Valley as Pando passed away a few days later on Nov. 3.

Never taking the case to a jury, Imotichey admitted his guilt as in 2016 a Garvin County judge sentenced him to serve a 30-year term in prison.

Last year Imotichey filed a motion in the case asking for post conviction relief based on last year's McGirt decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court ruled the state of Oklahoma didn't have jurisdiction in some cases because most of Oklahoma is still considered Indian reservation lands since Congress never took action to officially dissolve those reservations back in the 19th century.

Another important piece to this is last month's ruling by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reversing the murder convictions and death sentence for Shaun Bosse, who was convicted of killing a woman and her two young children a decade ago in neighboring McClain County.

The court's ruling was based on the crime occurring on land still legally recognized as within the Chickasaw Nation's reservation and the victims were Native Americans.

Court records here in Garvin County show Imotichey is claiming the state of Oklahoma “has no jurisdiction over Native Americans on native territory.”

Even more specific, “the state court in Garvin County had no legal standing to try or impose sentence on petitioner as he is a member of the Chickasaw Nation and the accident took (place) on Chickasaw Nation territory.”

Pando, who herself has an Indian decent with the Apache tribe, says she knows Imotichey could have an argument since he is a citizen of the Chickasaw tribe.

Even with that fact, emotions are always right on the edge as Pando said it can't be disputed that Imotichey's actions caused her daughter's death all those years ago.

“The deal is he committed the crime. If someone does something illegal it doesn't matter who they are, they should be punished. Whether you're Indian, you're Black or you're white, I don't care what color you are. If you do a crime regardless of what color you are you're guilty,” she says.

“They wonder why there's so much hatred out there when things like this happen. I didn't know about this law. If it doesn't change we're doomed. We need to use common sense here.

“I think it's wrong. I'm mad at the whole system. We don't have a chance with the way the law is going. I hope they look at what they're doing to the people of Oklahoma. The way it's changed things our law men have no chance.”

Pando is now the guardian of her granddaughters – Tonja's two surviving daughters. She describes incidents when they were young when one would be crying while holding a photo of her mother. “All I could do was just hold her.”

Now the girls, Vivian and Livvy, are nine and seven years old, as Pando plans to have them with her in the courtroom during Imotichey's hearing in May.

“Where's our rights? Where's the rights of the victims?” she said.

“If he walks I'll be disappointed in our courts. I'll never trust the courts again.”

Pando is quick to add she hopes the tribes and state can begin working together in the future so other families of victims can be spared a similar pain.

“Why don't they work together rather than dividing this state. The system is broke and they should work together.

“Indian tribes need to work with all governments regardless of whether or not you're Indian.”

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