Court takes arguments in Indian status case

PHOENIX - Federal prosecutors want an appeals court to reconsider a decision that significantly reduces an Arizona man's sentence on assault and firearms charges.

But Damien Zepeda's attorney, Michele Moretti, says prosecutors failed to prove Zepeda's bloodline derived from an American Indian tribe recognized by the federal government. That question is part of a test that determines federal jurisdiction over crimes on reservation land that involve Indians.

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has overturned eight of nine convictions for Zepeda, along with much of his 90-year sentence. The court had asked the parties to submit briefs on a rehearing.

Federal prosecutors say there's sufficient evidence that Zepeda's bloodline derives from the Tohono O'odham Nation of Arizona.

Moretti describes Zepeda as Hispanic American with a fractional degree of American Indian blood.

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