Welch Man Sentenced to 45 Years in Federal Prison for Murder

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A Welch man was sentenced Friday in federal court for murdering his 81-year-old mother in her home on Aug. 4, 2011, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson.

U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell accepted a plea agreement between the Government and the defendant and sentenced Michael Joe Rice, 58, to 540 months in federal prison. In July 2021, Rice pleaded guilty to second degree murder in Indian Country and admitted to killing his mother, Ruth Rice, by beating her to death.

Following Rice’s statement at sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Morgan criticized Rice for not offering even a simple apology for raping and murdering his own mother. He then stated that a 540-month sentence would ensure Rice was held accountable for the crime while also sparing the victim’s family from having to go through further court proceedings.

According to court documents, Michael Rice’s then girlfriend told a Craig County Sheriff’s Office deputy that she and Rice had found his adoptive mother in a back hallway of her home in Welch and they believed she was dead. She then directed the deputy to the victim’s residence nearby, which is located within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation Reservation. The victim was located in the home deceased.

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Later, on Aug. 29, 2011, Rice was interviewed by special agents from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Rice told agents that the murder happened over money and that he was depressed. He told agents that he went to his mother’s house and began hitting her multiple times before tackling her to the ground. When she asked what he was doing, he hit her in the head, grabbed nearby bags and pushed them into her mouth to stop her from yelling. He continued his assault then eventually went home. He told investigators that he was unsure if she had died at that time, but said she was no longer talking.

According to an affidavit filed in the federal case, Rice told agents that he returned to the victim’s home and raped her. He said he thought she was still alive or might have been dying at the time of the rape. The Chief Medical Examiner confirmed that the victim had sustained blunt force trauma to the head and was sexually assaulted.

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Rice, a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, previously pleaded guilty to the murder in Craig County District Court but challenged his state conviction and sentence based upon the Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruling in Hogner v. Oklahoma. At that time, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed charges in the case and Rice pleaded guilty in July 2021. In September 2021, his state conviction was upheld based on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeal’s decision in Matloff v Wallace that stated McGirt, in most cases, is not retroactive. (The Wallace decision was made in August 2021).

Rice appeared today in federal court on a writ from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, where he is serving a sentence of life without parole. Now that he has been sentenced in federal court, he will return to an Oklahoma Department of Corrections facility to serve his life sentence without the possibility of parole as handed down in Craig County District Court.

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“Michael Rice brutally assaulted his mother and left her for dead,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson. “His actions were heinous and inexcusable. I am thankful for the state and federal investigators and prosecutors who have worked diligently since 2011 to hold this killer accountable for his crimes.” 

The FBI, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, and Craig County Sheriff’s Office are the investigative agencies. Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Brasher and Mark R. Morgan are prosecuting the case. 

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