Latest Court of Appeals Ruling on Murray Case

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge McKay Lucero issued a ruling on Tuesday in the latest appeal over the death of Ute Tribe member Todd Murray. Todd Murray was a passenger in a high speed chase in 2007 that ended within the Ute reservation. After the car crashed, the car’s occupants ran including Murray who fired a gun at the pursuing officer before trying to hide and died from what the medical examiner concluded was a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. In the years since, Murray’s parents and the tribe have filed multiple lawsuits and appeals alleging the officers illegally pursued Murray onto the reservation, that the officers killed him, and then made it took like a suicide. When before the United States District Court it was ruled that Murray had committed suicide and there had been no spoliation of evidence as was alleged. The matter was then brought before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals which again affirmed that decision. In the latest appeal, the judge held that the officers cannot be tried in Ute Tribal Court for wrongful death, maintaining that the Tribe does not have tribal civil jurisdiction over the officers. The judge did, however, make one exception from a previous ruling. The court document states: “We conclude that the district court erred in excusing the officers from exhaustion of tribal remedies with respect to the Tribe’s trespass claim…” It later continues, stating, “Although we do not decide today whether Tribal Court possesses jurisdiction over that claim, exhaustion is required…” The Ute Tribe issued a release on Wednesday calling the ruling a “significant victory...in strengthening the jurisdiction of the Ute Indian Tribal Court…” Jesse Trentadue, legal representative for the officers and Uintah County, says the recent ruling is far from a victory for the Tribe. “In tribal court,” states Trentadue, “the focus in this case will be upon whether [the] defendants pursuit of a vehicle driven by a non-Indian with an Indian passenger (Murray) onto the Ute Reservation could ‘fairly be called catastrophic for trial self-government.’ We do not see how it could possibly be, especially since there was an outstanding warrant for Murray’s arrest and the officers clearly had jurisdiction to pursue the non-Indian driver for offenses committed off-reservation.” The Tribe press release states that they believe the Tenth Circuit ruling will strengthen the tribe’s ability to enforce its Tribal Trespass Ordinance against non-members who come onto the reservation without lawful authorization.

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Kristin Baldwin

Kristin never planned to work in news radio but has thoroughly enjoyed being part of the news team at KVEL. Her love of literature and writing developed in high school which led her to study English Literature and Technical Writing at BYU. She received her BA in English from BYU in 2005 and studied at UVU in Orem for 2 semesters to become a Certified Technical Writer in 2006. Two months after completion she began her dream job of being a stay-at-home mom.  As mother of 2 energetic kids, she began writing from home for the KVEL news team in 2011 and considers it the perfect fit as a full time mom and part time writer.