A Muskogee man whose murder conviction was tossed out only to be moved to federal court has pleaded guilty to the 1984 crime, according to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.
Melvin James Battiest, 60, entered a guilty plea in federal court to one count of Felony Murder in Indian Country. He faces up to life in prison, a fine of $250,000 and a term of supervised release of not less than five years.
Battiest was convicted by the State of Oklahoma in Wagoner County for beating to death Donald Cantrell, 46, of Rogers, Arkansas. Cantrell was found lying face down near the water shortly after noon on April 23, 1984, in the Wahoo Bay area on Fort Gibson Lake near Wagoner. A forensic pathologist testified the cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries to the head and chest, consistent with the use of a tire iron, according to court records.
Battiest began his prison sentence at the Oklahoma Department of Corrections in July 1985.
As a result of the McGirt decision, Battiest's state conviction was thrown out. In July 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court determined in McGirt v. Oklahoma the historical boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation were never disestablished by Congress and the State of Oklahoma did not have jurisdiction.
Battiest was indicted in federal court in April.
During the investigation, Battiest admitted that he and another man robbed and murdered Cantrell at Wahoo Bay and stole his truck and burned it in Broken Arrow. Battiest took detectives to the crime scene and showed them where everything took place.
The charges arose from an investigation by the Wagoner County Sheriff’s Office, the Muskogee Police Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
U.S. District Judge in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma Timothy D. Degiusti accepted the plea and ordered the completion of a presentence investigation report.