We're across from the prison to say #StopExecutions #NoFederalExecutions Going live approximately 5:40pm at...Posted by Death Penalty Action on Wednesday, August 26, 2020
In a normal murder involving a tribal suspect on tribal lands, federal officials must get tribal approval to pursue the death penalty. But a 1994 law created a new class of capital crime – carjacking resulting in death – that courts ultimately said could proceed without tribal input. Invoking the carjacking charge to get a death sentence for Mitchell “blindsided the Navajo Nation by using this to sidestep the Navajo Nation’s position,” Nez and Lizer said in their statement. The execution follows years of legal challenges on the grounds of tribal sovereignty, challenges Mitchell ultimately lost. That was followed by more appeals claiming racial bias in the jury that convicted Mitchell, which was made up of one Navajo and 11 white people. After Mitchell lost his last appeal in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but before he could petition the Supreme Court, the Justice Department in late July set an Aug. 26 execution date. The Supreme Court late Tuesday denied Mitchell’s appeal and his emergency petition to stay the execution. Mitchell’s attorneys said that left his life “in President Trump’s hands,” referring to commutation requests from a number of groups, including the Navajo Nation. But no commutation came. “It’s tragic, but it’s not surprising,” said Matthew Fletcher, professor of law at Michigan State University and director of the Indigenous Law & Policy Center who has followed Mitchell’s case closely. Mitchell was the fourth man executed on federal death row in the last five weeks. The last federal execution before then was in 2003, but Attorney General William Barr last year ordered the executions resume. Robert Yazzie, who was the Navajo Nation chief justice during the time of Mitchell’s crimes, said he is troubled by the lack of communication and respect for the tribal government by the federal government. “This is a matter that should be taken up as a sovereign nation with the United States Department of Justice,” Yazzie said. “Being respectful to each other is something that is, needs to be practiced even more, rather than just to overlook or to ignore Indians as nations.” Besides the sovereignty issues, he said, the execution is an affront to tribal culture. Navajo religion and tradition holds that “the whole life’s sacred and you do everything you can to maintain value of a life and not take a human life for vengeance,” Yazzie said. But Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec noted that some of the victims’ family members, who were on hand to witness the execution, feel differently. “Those family members, who are members of the Navajo Nation, have stated on the record that they supported implementation of the sentence returned by the jury and imposed by the court for Mitchell’s horrific federal crimes,” Kupec said in a statement. Fletcher said the decision to proceed with the execution does not change the big issues facing tribes like the Navajo Nation, but that it “sheds the spotlight on how little the United States … thinks of Indians and Indian tribes, when push comes to shove.” For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.
In prime-time #RNC2020 speech, Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer portrayed Donald Trump as someone who cares about Indian Country. But in just a few hours, the Trump administration will execute the only Native American on death row. #LezmondMitchell https://t.co/Um22e2QVCN— indianz.com (@indianz) August 26, 2020
-- Federal Government to Resume Capital Punishment After Nearly Two Decade Lapse (July 25, 2019)
United States v. Mitchell (June 19, 2015)
United States v. Mitchell (September 5, 2007)
Note: This story originally appeared on Cronkite News. It is published via a Creative Commons license. Cronkite News is produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.