Court puts American Indian status in jury's hands - CBS 5 - KPHO

Court puts American Indian status in jury's hands

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An Arizona man serving 90 years in prison on assault and firearms charges will have that sentence significantly reduced.

A federal appeals court says federal prosecutors did not prove Damien Zepeda is a member of a federally recognized American Indian tribe. That's the first step to charging him with felony offenses that occurred on reservation land.

The split decision from the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturns Damien Zepeda's conviction on eight of nine charges. A single count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of five years, remains.

Zepeda is an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community. But the court says prosecutors had to show jurors that his bloodline of one-quarter Pima and one-quarter Tohono O'odham derived from a tribe recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, and they did not.

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