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Kirk Douglas BILLIE

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Miccosukee Indian - Legal battle over tribal sovereignty
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: June 26, 1997
Date of birth: 1961
Victims profile: His sons, Kurt, 5, and Keith, 3
Method of murder: Drowning
Location: Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on February 17, 2001
 
 

 
 
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Third District Court of Appeal
State of Florida

 
opinion 3D05-585
 
 

 
 

Profile: Kirk Douglas Billie

From Charles Montaldo - About.com

Kirk Douglas Billie: Miccosukee Indian, Kirk Douglas Billie, 36, was sentenced to life in prison for the 1997 drowning death of his sons, five-year-old Kurt and three-year-old Keith. Angry at the way his ex-girlfriend neglected their children, Bille drove her truck to the bank of a canal, left it in drive, got out and watched as it rolled down into the water. What Billie claims to not have known was that his two children were asleep in the back of the truck and drowned as it sank into the canal.

The Tribe Forgave Billie: Billie's case caused a legal battle over tribal sovereignty when the crime fell under Florida jurisdiction because it happened a yard outside the reservation and on state property. Tribal chairman, Max Billie, said the incident was deemed an accident and Billie was forgiven. Florida authorities felt a jury should decide Billie's fate and after two trials, in which he was judged by a jury of non-native Americans, he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Billie's Volatile Past: Kirk Billie admits to his violent past. He has fathered children from three different women and has always claimed to love his children. But his abuse against the women in his life profiles a man who is short tempered, violent, and full of rage. Despite the love he has said he has for his children, he repeatedly exposed them to his fits of violent anger and abuse when they witnessed him beating their mothers.

The Tribal Court's History With Billie: The tribal court that forgave Billie for the incident that resulted in death of his children had previously issued a court order preventing Billie from seeing three of his children he fathered with a former girlfriend. The woman requested intervention from the court and they ruled in her favor. Billie responded by beating the woman with a baseball bat in front of the three children he was forbidden to be around.

A Child Having Children: Billie's relationship with Sheila Tiger began when she was 13-years-old and by the age of 15 she gave birth to their first son. She, a child herself, did not seem to accept the responsibility of being a mother. Having grown up living among friends and relatives when her alcoholic mother would periodically vanish, her role model for motherhood was less than healthy. Billie constantly fought with Tiger about not being a good mother and often those fights would escalate to violence.

More Children -- More Fights: Despite her poor mothering skills, Billie and Tiger continued to have two more children together. Tiger's lack of maturity was demonstrated by her lack of concern about the cleanliness of her home and her general disregard for bringing her children up in a normal environment. She would regularly drive around with the children sleeping in the back of her SUV until the early morning hours. This infuriated Billie and he would become abusive to her, both verbally and physically at times.

The Tribal Child Protection Team Intervenes: In 1994, the tribal Child Protection Team intervened and placed the children under the care of Tiger's mother, Marie Jim. Billie reacted by going to Jim's home with Tiger and severely beating and kicking Jim which caused her nose to break in three places. The crime was reported to the police but the state lacked jurisdiction to prosecute.

Billie Beat Tiger with a Wooden Broomstick: The relationship between Tiger and Billie continued to be volatile after the children were returned to her care. Billie did not like the way Tiger was raising the children and regular arguments would erupt. On one occassion Billie beat Tiger so severely with a broomstick that it broke into pieces. Tiger testified that their older son, five-year-old Kurt, would try to intervene and protect her.

Billie Threatened to Destroy Tiger's SUV: The couple ended their relationship other than occasional sex, but this did not deter Billie from beating and verbally assaulting Tiger. He detested Tiger's poor mothering skills and often threatened to destroy Tiger's SUV because she refused to stop driving with the boys in the back seat late at night.

The Crime: On the day before the drowning incident, Billie called Tiger several times asking that she bring over his sons. Tiger instead left the children with her 15-year-old friend, Melody Osceola, while she went to visit her boyfriend. Osceola was supposed to return to pick Tiger up later that evening but until that time Tiger told her to drive around with the kids.

Billie spent the night drinking with his friends at a bowling alley. After a short nap at a friends house, he claimed he decided to go drive around to see who was hanging out after a "Corn Dance" celebration. He spotted who he thought was Tiger driving around in her SUV and watched as she pulled into her driveway. Angry that she was being an irresponsible mother again, he parked his truck down the road and walked over to who he thought was Tiger.

When Osceola got out of the truck carrying Billie's youngest son, Kirkland, Billie jumped into Tiger's SUV and drove off. He pulled up to a bank on the canal, got out, and watched as Tiger's SUV slipped into the water.

Osceola alerted Tiger to Billie's actions and when Tiger was unable to locate him she called the police. The police placed Billie in custody, questioning him as to the whereabouts of the truck and his children. Billie was undaunted and said that he thought the police were using the questions about his childrens whereabouts to trick him into telling where the SUV was and he refused to cooperate.

On a video tape of the holding cell, there was a moment when Billie was told by his father that the children were indeed in the truck. Billie reacted by covering his face, pacing, and then falling to his knees. Billie has always claimed that he did not know before that point that the children were in the truck. After learning it, he cooperated fully with the police.

Divers found the bodies of Kurt and Keith floating inside the vehicle and were unable to resuscitate them.

Billie was sentenced to life in prison.


Kirk Douglas Billie Getsd Life Sentence

Friday February 18, 2001

Kirk Douglas Billie, Miccosukee Indian whose arrest set off a dispute over tribal sovereignty, was sentenced to life in prison for the drowning of his two sons, who were in the back seat of a SUV he purposely drove into a canal.

Billie, 36, was convicted earlier in February of second-degree murder in the deaths of Kurt, 5, and Keith, 3. During a 1997 fight with his ex-girlfriend, Billie drove her SUV into a canal near the Miccosukee reservation in Florida. Billie claimed he did not know the two boys were in the back seat at the time.

A previous conviction for the murders was overturned when a judge ruled that evidence of domestic violence against previous girlfriends should not have been admitted.

The Miccosukee tribe fought to block the state prosecution of Billie, calling the murder charges "white man's justice."


Tribal sovereignty hinders prosecutor

Murder trial for 1997 drownings set to begin in Dade Wednesday

By Jay Weaver 

January 16, 2001

The criminal case seemed clear-cut. Kirk Douglas Billie, a Miccosukee Indian, is accused of driving his ex-girlfriend's car into an Everglades canal in 1997 -- and drowning their two young sons, who were asleep in the back.

But the state's efforts to prosecute Billie, 32, for first-degree murder have been muddied from the start.

The Miccosukee tribe, citing its sovereign-nation status under federal law, has successfully blocked almost every move by the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office to subpoena critical witnesses from the tribe to testify against him.

Frustrated prosecutors, while not talking publicly about the case as it goes to trial Wednesday, suggest that the Miccosukees are not only a separate nation -- but one seemingly above the law.

In recent court papers fighting the tribe's effort to quash subpoenas for Miccosukee police officers, prosecutors seemed at wit's end over the extent of the tribe's sovereign immunity as approved by Congress.  

Tribal leaders ``posit that if a Miccosukee Reserved Area resident shot and killed a citizen in front of the MRA police station, and the officer were the only witness, the case could not be prosecuted in state or federal court without the tribe's written permission,'' Assistant State Attorney Reid Rubin wrote. ``This cannot be true.''

Rubin may be exaggerating to make his point -- after all, Circuit Judge Leon Firtel last week upheld the state's right to subpoena officers to testify at Billie's trial.

But there is a good measure of truth in his hypothetical example.

``They are, to some extent, a separate nation within our own nation, but I wouldn't agree they are above the law,'' said Fort Lauderdale attorney Bruce Rogow, who represents the Seminole Indians in federal matters, including their dispute over gambling rights with Florida.

NOT THE FIRST TIME

The state's murder case against Billie is not the first time the sovereignty issue has come up in recent years.

In 1999, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stanford Blake rejected the state prosecutors' request to revoke the bond of Tammy Gwen Billie and send her back to jail. She was arrested by Miccosukee Police on a driving-related offense after she had been charged with DUI manslaughter on the Tamiami Trail and released the previous year.

In his decision, Blake noted that Billie's second offense occurred on the reservation -- a sovereign nation whose residents have special rights.

Early in the nation's history, Congress established the sovereignty doctrine by giving reservation Indians the right to make their own laws. Dating back to 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the laws of the states could have ``no force'' and the citizens of those states had ``no right to enter'' Indian reservations -- without congressional action.

The Miccosukee tribal land is within Everglades National Park. Until 1998, tribe members lived there under a special permit from the National Park Service.

That year, Congress enacted the Miccosukee Reserved Area Act, allowing the tribe to live permanently in the park. Significantly, the act created the Miccosukee Reserved Area -- a federally recognized Indian reservation.

In effect, that designation has provided Billie with his strongest defensive weapon. The tribal council has refused to cooperate with state prosecutors, declaring the drownings, which happened off the reservation, were an accident and that the matter has been settled among the Miccosukee leaders with a handshake.

DESPERATE ACTION

In a major setback to the state's case, U.S. District Judge Paul Huck found that the tribe's sovereign immunity blocked federal marshals from issuing witness subpoenas to Miccosukee Indians who saw Billie the night of the drownings -- including his ex-girlfriend, Sheila Tiger, mother of the two young boys who died.

Prosecutors grew so frustrated with the tribe that it asked Miami-Dade police to pick up Tiger as she went off the reservation last month so she could give pretrial testimony.

Tiger, 24, is the state's star witness -- although she has given contradictory statements about whether Billie knew their sons, Keith, 3, and Kurt, 5, were in the back of her Chevrolet Tahoe when he drove it into the Tamiami Canal.

Billie's prosecution has been riddled with roadblocks from the Miccosukees, who have closed ranks almost defiantly.

In court papers, Rubin, the lead prosecutor, has accused the tribe of using its sovereign status to cripple the state's case by denying access to a half-dozen key Indian witnesses and three tribal police officers.

``The tribe has made a conscious decision to help the defendant and the defense while obstructing the state prosecution,'' Rubin wrote.

In court papers filed with a state appellate court, prosecutors revealed their frustration with the tribe's use of sovereign immunity in its bid to block the testimony of the three Miccosukee officers, including the original investigator, James Fierro.

In a footnote, Rubin claimed the tribe's attorney, Dexter Lehtinen, implied that the tribe was above the law when he disagreed with the prosecutor during a recent court hearing.

Lehtinen did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Billie's attorneys, Edward O'Donnell and Diane Ward, said they have not relied on the tribe's sovereign immunity to defend their client. Rather, they are trying to suppress his statement and other evidence on constitutional grounds that it was illegally obtained by Miami-Dade Police on June 27, 1997, the day after the drownings.

Judge Firtel will decide on Billie's motion to suppress his police statement today, less than a day before jury selection is scheduled to begin.


Florida Murder Investigation Pits Prosecutors Against a Tribe

By Dana Canedy - The Associated Press

January 14, 2001

MIAMI, Jan. 13 — As they slept in the back seat of their mother's Chevrolet Tahoe one evening in June of 1997, 3-year-old Keith Tiger and his 5-year-old brother, Kurt, had no warning that their tranquility would soon be interrupted and that within hours they would be lying dead at the bottom of a canal that their father drove them into before he jumped to safety.

No one disputes that Kirk Billie drove his estranged girlfriend's truck into the canal in the Everglades with their young sons inside that June night. And so the case might seem to be a horrific but straightforward matter for a jury to decide. Either Kirk Billie is a killer who drowned his sons to punish their mother, as prosecutors argue, or he is the victim of a regrettable accident and had no idea they were in the truck when it plunged into the water, as his lawyers contend.

But there is nothing at all straightforward about the Billie case, which goes to trial Jan. 22 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

What sets Mr. Billie apart from all other murder defendants awaiting trial in circuit court here is that he is a Miccosukee Indian and nephew of a prominent member of the tribe's governing council, which is fighting to keep him out of prison.

The Miccosukee tribe, which consists of about 700 people, has asserted its rights as a sovereign nation to try to prevent Mr. Billie from facing prosecution. Tribal leaders say that they alone have jurisdiction in the case and that their Tribal Court has decided to "forgive" Mr. Billie.

But the Miami-Dade County prosecutor's office says that is not good enough. It is prosecuting Mr. Billie on two counts of first-degree murder and is seeking the death penalty.

The boys drowned in a canal on state property near the reservation, which is located in the Everglades. 

The fight over the tribe's rights and the state's authority in the Billie case is unique because it involves murder charges. But the case is just the latest example of how some tribes are more aggressively using their powers as sovereign entities to prevent governmental intervention in what they consider tribal affairs, say experts on Native American law and culture. It also highlights the conflicts that often arise when civil and criminal penalties imposed by tribal courts are out of step with federal and state court standards.

The Miccosukees' settling of the case involved a handshake and a vow to put the matter to rest. "The tribe clans met three weeks after the incident and in accordance with the tribe's customary and traditional dispute resolution, shook hands and determined that forgiveness was appropriate," the tribe's chairman, Billie Cypress, wrote in a letter in August to State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. "The tribe members believe they have handled the issues, Indian to Indian."

Prosecutors say that because the drowning occurred outside the Miccosukee reservation, the state has the authority and obligation to pursue the case. "This is for a jury to decide," said Reid Rubin, the lead prosecutor on the case.

Piecing together the case, though, has been a challenge because of the tribe's aggressive tactics to try to thwart prosecutors' investigation.

Tribe lawyers obtained a court order blocking prosecutors from entering tribal land to serve witness subpoenas. The tribe also unsuccessfully sought to prevent prosecutors from using Miccosukee Police Department reports in the case, claiming the department and its records were protected by the sovereignty status. It has forbidden officers from cooperating with the state's investigation and has fired employees who did so, prosecutors say.

Lawyers for Mr. Billie, who has been in jail in Miami since tribe police turned him over to county authorities the day of the drowning, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Tribe officials and their lead attorney, Dexter Lehtinen, also did not return calls. Another tribe lawyer reached briefly, Juan Vargas, said, "The tribe's position is to decline any interviews at this time." 

The dead boys' mother, Sheila Tiger, has told prosecutors that she does not want to testify against Mr. Billie. She could not be reached for comment. Prosecutors, who say they believe Ms. Tiger is afraid to act against the tribe's wishes, detained her when she drove off the reservation last month and held her in a hotel for three days until she gave a videotaped deposition about the night her sons died.

In 1997, Ms. Tiger told tribe police that Mr. Billie had previously threatened to harm the boys, but she later retracted her statement. According to court records and police reports, Mr. Billie has a history of arrests for violence on the reservation, including violence against Ms. Tiger's mother, who has also declined to talk to prosecutors.

They say they have all but given up on interviewing some tribe members who could tell them what happened that June night. "It is unlikely that we will have everyone at our fingertips that we would like to testify," Mr. Reid said.

Court records from several criminal cases involving members of the Miccosukee tribe show a pattern of efforts to keep criminal cases out of state courts. And the records and interviews suggest a failure by the tribal police and court to prosecute some of its members for violent and alcohol- or drug-related offenses, or to sentence them to jail.

In a 1998 case, Tammy Gwen Billie, a cousin of Max Billie, the tribal council member, drove off the reservation and smashed head-on into another car, instantly killing a woman. Ms. Billie was released from police custody and is awaiting trial on manslaughter charges. She has testified in court that the crash was an accident. She was later arrested on another driving-related offense. 

Lawyers for the tribe, again raising the sovereignty issue, argued that tribe police documents should not be used as evidence in the manslaughter case.

In another case, a former lieutenant with the Miccosukee Police Department said he was fired after suggesting that another member of the tribe be turned over to federal authorities to be charged with assaulting his girlfriend with a knife. "I was subsequently fired the next day," former Lt. Tom Fucci said in a deposition.

He also testified that many cases "ended up in tribal court and nothing happened," and argued that many such cases should probably be handled by state or federal authorities.

But, said one of the prosecutors in the Kirk Billie case, tribal members' rights often collide with society's quest for justices. "I'm not sure that a lot of times prosecutors don't get frustrated and just don't push it," said Christine Zahralban, an assistant state attorney.

That, she insisted, will not happen in the Kirk Billie case, "because two babies are dead."


Tribe Seeks Murder Case Jurisdiction 

By Catherine Wilson, Associated Press Writer 

October 24, 2000

MIAMI (AP) - Florida's Miccosukee Indians are trying to thwart prosecutors in their attempt to build a case against an Indian accused of murdering his sleeping sons by driving into a canal.

Tribal elders have said they have forgiven 31-year-old Kirk Douglas Billie and have decided to help him.

State prosecutors have charged Billie with murder in the deaths of his two boys, ages 3 and 5, who drowned in 1997 when Billie drove his estranged girlfriend's vehicle into a canal off the Miccosukee reservation.

But prosecutors have been barred from setting foot on reservation land to serve subpoenas on seven to 10 Miccosukees they want to question for the murder trial, set for Jan. 22.

``It's fair to say that the case would be complicated and jeopardized without the witnesses,'' prosecutor Reid Rubin said.

Billie has been held without bail since 1997. On Tuesday, Circuit Judge Leon Firtel again refused to allow Billie's release on bail, saying he wants assurances from the Miccosukees that any attempts by the court to make sure Billie shows up for trial are enforced on tribal lands.

Inside the courtroom, Billie sat alone in a jury box. At one point he looked around as if to see if he knew any spectators. No other Indians came to court. Anyone from the reservation involved in the case risked being served with a subpoena if they came.

In arguing for Billie's release on bail, Billie's attorney Diane Ward suggested her client is suffering because of the tribe's position.

Billie, a nephew of a tribal council member, has insisted he did not know the boys were in the Chevrolet Tahoe and said he accidentally veered into the canal.

One of his lawyers, Ed O'Donnell, said the prosecutor's warnings about the tribal dispute hurting the case are exaggerated.

``There are any number of options open to the state, and they're aware of them,'' he said. For example, subpoenas can be served when Indians leave the reservation to shop for groceries or other personal business.

``There will be a trial. That's certain,'' O'Donnell said.

The Miccosukees are a 600-member tribe with a bingo hall and casino on the edge of Miami.


Tribe rejects subpoenas in murder inquiry

By Frances Robles - Miami Herald

Thursday, September 28, 2000

A first-degree murder case is in danger of crumbling because the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians doesn't want law enforcement authorities serving subpoenas on its reservation.

Saying the drownings of Kurt and Keith Billie have been settled Indian to Indian, the tribe doesn't want the young boys' father, Kirk Douglas Billie, to be prosecuted. Tribe leaders say they shook hands, forgave and declared the drownings an accident.

In a case that could have wide-sweeping implications, the Miami-Dade state attorney, U.S. attorney's office and the Miccosukee Tribe Business Council have taken the battle to federal and tribal courts. The crux of their legal debate: whether state subpoenas for people who live in a sovereign nation can be served by federal agents.

The tribe wants Billie out of jail and U.S. marshals trying to serve subpoenas off their land.

``The public should be outraged by the government's attempt to bully the Miccosukee Tribe,'' tribe Chairman Billy Cypress said in a statement. ``The government tried to use the same tactic it used with Elián González, and it did not work.''

The legal dispute centers around 31-year-old Billie, a man with a documented history of violent run-ins with women and children. According to police records, he hit a wife, a girlfriend, a mother-in-law and a 9-year-old with his fists, a broom and also a bat.

Sheila Tiger, mother of his three children, decided to dump him. On June 26, 1997, prosecutors say Billie left her a note that said, ``Don't think the kids will ever stop me.'' 

As that night turned into morning, Billie called to say he was coming over. Tiger left with her three kids and started driving around the reservation in her Chevrolet Tahoe to avoid him, court records say.

Tiger stopped at the house of her friend Melody Osceola, leaving her car and kids there. Billie spotted Osceola in the Tahoe and tailed it -- the lights on his car off.

Osceola parked and got out with a baby in her arms, leaving the engine running and Keith, 3, and Kurt, 5, asleep in the back seat. Billie reportedly pushed her aside and took off with the truck.

BOYS DROWNED

The boys remained strapped to the back when Billie drove it into the 13-foot-deep Tamiami Canal, just outside the reservation. Kurt and Keith drowned in the middle of the night.

The next morning, Billie led police to the Tahoe, claiming he didn't know his sons were in the back. He was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. 

This summer, Cypress sent Miami-Dade prosecutors a five-page letter asking that they drop the case. Saying Indians settle matters ``in a different way,'' Cypress made it clear that law enforcement authorities trying to serve subpoenas to the nearly dozen Miccosukee witnesses were not welcome.

Because the U.S. attorney's office has jurisdiction over the reservation, prosecutors tried getting U.S. marshals to serve subpoenas. Miccosukee Police asked them to leave.

MOTION FILED

Tribe attorney Dexter Lehtinen -- the former U.S. attorney here -- filed a motion in federal court asking a judge to keep the feds from coming back. Lehtinen filed court motions arguing that the state is trying to skirt Congress by getting federal agents to illegally serve state subpoenas.

``They are making rather sweeping assertions of sovereignty,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Tamen said. ``All they need to do next is say they are seceding from the U.S. and are setting up Customs and Border Patrol.

``Our position is that there is sufficient federal interest in seeing this case prosecuted. We believe marshals do have authority to serve state trial subpoenas.''

NO RULES

Indian reservations outside Florida have rules to decide such matters. The Miccosukees do not.

U.S. District Judge Paul Huck asked the two sides to take the matter to Tribal Court, as is done in other reservations. The state plans to file papers there today.

``The tribal elders of the clan are the ones who have to speak on the matter,'' Cypress wrote. ``And they have spoken.''

 

 

 
 
 
 
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