The 11th Execution of 2020
The Justice Department executed the only Native American man on federal death row on August 26, 2020, against the wishes of Navajo leaders and hundreds of Native American citizens who called for President Trump to spare his life, reported the New York Times.
Lezmond Mitchell, 38, was put to death by lethal injection
at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. He was declared dead at 6:29
p.m., according to the Bureau of Prisons.
He had been sentenced to death for the 2001 murder of a
grandmother, Alyce Slim, and her 9-year-old granddaughter, Tiffany Lee. As a
member of the Navajo Nation, he was the first Native American man to be
executed by the federal government in recent history, in part because federal
law allows tribes to opt in or out of capital punishment for certain crimes.
Moments before his death, a prison official asked Mr.
Mitchell if he had any last words for the family members of his victims and
witnesses, according to a report from a journalist in attendance. Mr. Mitchell
responded nonchalantly, “No, I’m good.”
Mr. Mitchell’s supporters claimed that the Justice
Department obtained his sentence only by exploiting a loophole in the law and
disregarding tribal sovereignty.
In the weeks before his death, leaders of the Navajo Nation
implored Mr. Trump to commute his sentence to life in prison. Myron Lizer, the
tribe’s vice president, spoke at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday
night in support of Mr. Trump’s re-election bid; Jonathan Nez, its president,
spoke at the Democratic National Convention last week.
Mr. Mitchell’s execution was the fourth since the Trump
administration resurrected federal capital punishment after a hiatus of
nearly two decades. The fifth man is scheduled to be executed on Friday.
The Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 allowed tribes to opt
in to the death penalty, and nearly all — including the Navajo Nation —
have opted out. But Mr. Mitchell was convicted of a federal crime to which the
tribal option did not apply, “carjacking resulting in death.”
Around the time of Mr. Mitchell’s sentencing, Marlene Slim,
the mother and daughter of the victims, testified against the death penalty.
However, lawyers representing the victims’ relatives said in a statement that
the family now supported the government’s efforts to put Mr. Mitchell to death.
“Mr. Mitchell’s attorneys or advocates and the Navajo Nation
do not speak for these victims and have not accurately expressed their wishes,”
the statement read.
Late Tuesday night, the Supreme Court denied Mr. Mitchell’s
pleas to stay his lethal injection, effectively paving the way for his
execution on Wednesday.
In 2001, Mr. Mitchell and three others plotted to carjack a
vehicle to use in an armed robbery. Mr. Mitchell and Johnny Orsinger, his
16-year-old accomplice, killed Alyce Slim and her granddaughter, before
decapitating them and disposing of the bodies in a shallow hole. Three days
later, Mr. Mitchell and two others robbed a trading post on the Navajo
reservation, using Ms. Slim’s pickup truck.
Mr. Orsinger, who was ineligible for the death penalty given
his age, was sentenced to life in prison.
Mr. Mitchell’s lawyers raised concerns about his case that
stemmed from his race. Mr. Mitchell was held in tribal jail for 25 days and
interrogated by F.B.I. agents without a lawyer. He was brought before a federal
magistrate judge only after he confessed to the crimes. Additionally, his jury
included only one member of the Navajo Nation.
Even as a federal appeals court denied his request to delay
his execution, judges expressed concern about the imposition of the death
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