OKLAHOMA CITY — A ruling from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has opened the door for proceedings to move forward in a stalled murder case against two Pawhuska brothers.
On Friday, a four-judge panel dissolved a stay and ruled that a preliminary hearing must be held to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Tyler and Jeremy Reece in state court for the September 2015 death of Pawhuska pumper Rick Holt, whose partially charred corpse was found on restricted Indian land near Hominy.
The preliminary hearing is set for March 6.
Friday’s ruling stems from a revised projection of the crime scene initially offered up in May 2016 after the state missed an appeal deadline.
According to the amended complaint, the Reece brothers broke into Holt’s house, kidnapped him, shot him in the neck and shoulders in his own yard, then drove him to restricted Osage land northwest of Hominy, where they shot him again, this time in the head.
After originally claiming that the kill shot was delivered on Indian land and out of its exclusive jurisdiction, Osage County prosecutors now maintain that the lethal blow was administered in Holt’s yard, thus giving the state the authority to charge the pair with murder.
As the Court of Criminal Appeals noted, that theory has not yet been presented in state court, hence their decision to allow for a preliminary hearing.
“… the state has not had the opportunity to present what evidence, if any, it may have to establish the facts underlying the offenses it has alleged in its amended information,” Judge Gary Lumpkin wrote.
In the state judicial system, the brothers face one count each of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping. Tyler Reece also faces a fourth charge of desecrating a corpse.
Under Oklahoma statute, each brother could receive up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of $5,000 for conspiracy to commit murder if found guilty, plus up to 20 years’ imprisonment for kidnapping.
State prosecutors have three penalty choices with respect to the murder charge if the Reeces’ motion to dismiss is not granted: life in prison with the possibility of parole, life in prison without parole or the death penalty. If the murder charges are moved to federal court, the death penalty is no longer an option.
The case has been in limbo for more than two years thanks to jurisdictional questions. The Reece brothers are citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Holt’s body was found on Osage land, thus opening the door for proceedings in federal or tribal court under the Major Crimes Act.
In 2016, both Osage County Associate District Court Judge Stuart Tate and Mayes County District Judge Terry McBride dismissed state charges of first-degree murder and corpse desecration, saying they believed the fatal shot was delivered on restricted Indian land, thus taking the matter out of the state’s hands and placing it in the federal government’s.
However, to date, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tulsa has passed on the case twice.
The Osage Nation filed first degree homicide charges in May 2016 to ensure the brothers remained in custody after the state of Oklahoma missed an appeal deadline.
On Wednesday, Jeff Jones with the Osage Nation’s Office of the Attorney General confirmed that the tribe has not dropped its criminal charges against the Reeces. Jones also confirmed that no additional hearings will be scheduled in tribal court until after all proceedings in the state judicial system are complete.
If convicted in tribal court, the brothers could face up to one year in jail, a $5,000 fine and banishment from Osage lands for 20 years.