High court to hear arguments again in Oklahoma murder case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Thursday it will hear arguments a second time in a case involving an Oklahoma man who argued that the state had no right to prosecute him because he is a Native American and the crime occurred on land belonging to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

The justices announced they will hear a new round of arguments in the case of Patrick Murphy. The justices will begin hearing arguments again in October. Murphy was convicted of killing a fellow tribe member in 1999.

A federal appeals court found Oklahoma had no right to try him for a crime that was committed on American Indian land.

The justices did not explain their decision to hear a second round of arguments.

State Attorney General Mike Hunter has said the lower court's ruling, if affirmed, would plunge eastern Oklahoma into "civil, criminal and regulatory turmoil."

The Creek Nation's original territory encompasses more than 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares), including most of what became the state's second-largest city, Tulsa.

"This case has implications for millions of Oklahomans, both tribal and non-tribal citizens," Hunter said in a statement Thursday.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation officials, however, say those concerns are overblown and maintain the tribe's reservation boundaries were never disestablished by Congress.


US government seeks part of Oklahoma's $270M opioid deal

SEAN MURPHY Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The U.S. government wants a portion of Oklahoma's $270 million settlement with Purdue Pharma that stemmed from the state's ongoing lawsuit against opioid makers.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wrote to the head of Oklahoma's Medicaid agency that it has determined the federal government is entitled to part of Oklahoma's proceeds.

The June 12 letter from CMS' regional director Bill Brooks also seeks detailed information from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and warns that failure to return a portion of the settlement money could result in the withholding of federal funds. Medicaid is jointly funded by the federal government and states.

Details of the letter were first reported Thursday by The Washington Post.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority requested a 90-day extension from CMS to provide the federal agency with the requested information, and that request was granted this week, giving the state until Oct. 12 to provide its response.

A spokesman for Attorney General Mike Hunter says his office is reviewing the CMS request. Spokesman Alex Gerszewski also said the federal government's request won't affect state revenue.

It's not clear how much of the state's settlement the federal government is seeking or where the money would come from. Oklahoma's settlement in March with Purdue, the maker of OxyContin, and the company's controlling family called for nearly $200 million to go into a trust for the creation of a National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa. Private attorneys who handled the case for Oklahoma received about $60 million, while an additional $12.5 million was earmarked for local governments.

CMS says it is entitled to a portion of the funds under a provision of the federal Social Security Act that applies to money recovered by the state. A CMS spokesman says anytime the agency becomes aware of a settlement that might involve a Medicaid overpayment, the agency works with states to determine what portion may need to be returned to the federal government.

Federal agencies requesting a portion of such money is not unprecedented. In 2015, the federal government received half of a $1.375 billion settlement agreement with the rating agency Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC, but in that case the U.S. Department of Justice was involved in the lawsuit, along with 19 states and the District of Columbia.

The letter did not reference Oklahoma's $85 million settlement with Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceuticals or the state's ongoing public nuisance lawsuit against consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson. Witnesses for the state have suggested the cost of abating the opioid crisis in Oklahoma could be as much as $17.5 billion over the next 30 years.

The idea the state could be on the hook to pay millions of dollars to the federal government didn't sit well with Oklahoma state Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore.

"As far as I'm concerned, that's the state's money," said McBride, one of several lawmakers critical of the way the Purdue settlement was structured. "It seems like the federal government is seeing that the attorney general won with these two settlements, and now they have their hand out, and I think that's just wrong."

After the Purdue settlement was announced, the Oklahoma Legislature approved a new law clarifying that any settlement proceeds go directly into the state treasury.


Police: Ex-Oklahoma lawmaker died of self-inflicted gunshot

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Investigators say a former Oklahoma state senator who was found dead inside his home apparently died from a self-inflicted gunshot.

The Norman Police Department said Thursday it has concluded its investigation into the death of 53-year-old Jonathan Nichols. Investigators say foul play wasn't involved.

Officers discovered Nichols' body on June 5 inside his west Norman home after receiving a call about an individual with a gunshot wound. Police say their final report will be forwarded to the Medical Examiner's Office.

Nichols was a former Republican state senator from Norman who served from 2000 to 2012. Afterward he took staff positions with the state House, Senate and the University of Oklahoma.