27 August 2020 :
Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American on death row, was executed Wednesday evening at the federal prison in Terre Haute.
Mitchell, 38, was a member of the Navajo Nation.
Mitchell had just turned 20 when he was arrested alongside a teenager named Johnny Oslinger. Mitchell was convicted in 2003 in connection with the January 3, 2001 murders of a 63-year-old Navajo woman, Alyce Slim, and her 9-year-old granddaughter, Tiffany Lee, on the Navajo reservation in the northeast corner of Arizona.
Prosecutors said Mitchell and his co-defendant murdered Slim and Lee, dismembering both of their bodies and burying them, so they could steal Slim's pickup truck and use it in an armed robbery. Orsinger was a juvenile at the time so was ineligible for the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison. He is serving his sentence in an Atlanta prison. Mitchell has long maintained that Orsinger, who had a criminal record at the time, was the ringleader of the grisly crimes.
He was convicted of killing 63-year-old Alyce Slim, and her 9-year-old granddaughter, Tiffany Lee, in Arizona in 2001.
Everything but Mitchell's head and hands were concealed beneath a teal sheet as he lay on a gurney. Asked if he had any last words, Mitchell said, "No, I'm good." There were no witnesses on his behalf, only media and victim family members.
Two government officials stood nearby as execution procedures began at 6:03 p.m. They read a list of Mitchell’s convicted charges before administering a lethal injection.
Mitchell’s chest appeared to be moving in and out until 6:09 p.m., when it began slowing. It stopped moving completely at 6:10 p.m., according to an IndyStar reporter who witnessed the execution.
Silence swallowed the chamber for nearly 20 minutes. Lee was pronounced dead at 6:29 p.m.
Following the execution, an attorney for Daniel Lee, father of the slain 9-year-old girl, read a prepared statement on behalf of Lee, who stood nearby.
"I have waited 19 years to get justice for my daughter, Tiffany. "I will never get Tiffany back, but I hope that this will bring some closure," attorney Colleen Clase, said on behalf of Lee.
In the statement, Lee thanked several agencies involved in the case, including the Navajo Nation Police Department, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office. He also thanked U.S. Attorney General William Barr and President Donald Trump.
"If it had not been for the Trump administration, I do not think I would have ever received justice or a sense of finality."
The Navajo Nation strongly objected to the execution.
"The very fact that he faced execution despite the tribe’s opposition to a death sentence for him reflected the government’s disdain for tribal sovereignty," Mitchell attorneys Jonathan Aminoff and Celeste Bacchi said in a statement.
Mitchell became the fourth prisoner to be executed in Terre Haute this year. The penitentiary there is the only place where federal executions are carried out.
Like the three executions before Mitchell, multiple appeals were made to stay or cancel the death sentence. Also like the others, the appeals were unsuccessful.
On Sunday, Mitchell's attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his execution in a request that was denied Tuesday night. Attorneys also made one final request for clemency before President Donald Trump.
Attorneys said Mitchell's case is the only time in modern history the federal government has sought the death penalty over the objection of a tribe when the crime was committed on tribal land.
The Navajo Nation consistently objected Mitchell's execution. Records from the Navajo Nation and Mitchell's attorneys show that Marlene Slim, Tiffany's mother and Alyce's daughter, also objected to prosecutors pursuing the death sentence at the time of the trial.
But attorneys representing Marlene as well as Tiffany's father, Daniel Lee, said in a statement on Wednesday that their clients' wishes relating to Mitchell's sentence have not been "accurately expressed."
On Oct. 28, 2001, Mitchell and Johnny Orsinger, a minor at the time, traveled from Arizona to New Mexico. Mitchell was preparing for an armed robbery, and the two decided to hitchhike back to the Navajo reservation, according to court documents.
Slim and her granddaughter were traveling through New Mexico, and at some point on the trip, they picked up Mitchell and Orsinger.
Slim stopped to let the men out in Arizona, but they stabbed her 33 times. Court documents said the men made the child sit next to her grandmother's body, and Mitchell drove to the mountains before ordering the girl out of the truck.
Court documents said Mitchell cut the child's throat. When she did not die, Orsinger used rocks to kill her.
Mitchell was sentenced to death in 2003 after being convicted of carjacking resulting in death, murder, robbery and kidnapping. Orsinger, who as a juvenile was ineligible for the death penalty, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.
Advocates across the country called on the federal government to stop Mitchell's execution because of sovereignty concerns related to the Navajo Nation.
The federal government didn't have any jurisdiction on tribal land until Congress passed the Major Crimes Act in 1885. With the passing of the Major Crimes Act, the government gained jurisdiction over certain crimes committed on tribal land by a Native American against another Native American.
In 1994, the Federal Death Penalty Act allowed tribal governments to say if they wanted the capital punishment to be applied to their citizens. The Navajo Nation is against the death penalty and told the federal government it did not want the death penalty to be pursued in Mitchell's case.
In a news release Wednesday night, a Navajo Nation spokesperson called Mitchell's execution "an affront to our Nation because we should be the ones to decide these matters.
"We have a court system that is fair and just for all persons. We have laws that protect our People. We have brave men and women on our police force to watch over us." the release said. "Crimes committed on the Navajo Nation are for us to decide."
On July 31, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez sent a letter to Donald Trump. “On behalf of the Navajo Nation, we strongly encourage you to consider leniency for Lezmond Charles Mitchell,” he wrote, asking the president to commute Mitchell’s sentence to life in prison.
It was not the first time such a letter had been written. “On a number of occasions, since 2002, the Navajo Nation Attorneys General, the Navajo Nation Council Standing Committee, and the Navajo Nation Chief Justice informed the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona of the Navajo Nation’s opposition to the death penalty in Mr. Mitchell’s case,” Nez wrote.”
Federal executions resumed in Terre Haute in July after a 17-year hiatus. Daniel Lewis Lee was the first to be executed. Since then, Wesley Ira Purkey and Dustin Lee Honken have been executed.
Another man is scheduled to be executed two days after Mitchell. Keith Dwayne Nelson was convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a 10-year-old girl in Missouri in 2001.
William Emmett LeCroy, who raped and murdered a woman in Georgia in 2001, is scheduled to be executed Sept. 22. Christopher Andre Vialva, who murdered two youth ministers in Texas in 1999, is scheduled for execution on Sept. 24.
Mitchell was the was the 11th person executed this year in the USA, the 1,523rd executed in the United States since 1976, the 7th person executed in the federal system since it resumed executions in 2001.