Story at a glance
- The Department of Justice has announced an execution death for Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American on death row.
- His case has been appealed on the grounds of the Navajo Nation’s opposition to the death penalty.
- Mitchell’s scheduled execution is one of several following the Trump administration’s resumption of federal executions.
The only Native American on federal death row is scheduled to be executed on Aug. 26 by lethal injection, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Thursday.
Lezmond Mitchell was convicted of the 2001 murder of a Navajo woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter in a case that began with carjacking and robbery. It was that carjacking charge that allowed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty. Under federal law, prosecutors must seek tribal approval of a death sentence, which the Navajo Nation opposes, in murder and several other major crimes. But when the case was tried in 2003, carjacking had only recently been named a capital offense and wasn’t one of these crimes.
Mitchell appealed the case in 2007, both on the grounds of the Navajo Nation’s opposition to the death penalty and potential racial bias of the jury panel. The ninth circuit upheld the original sentence, but his attorneys have asked for a stay of execution while they appeal his case to the Supreme Court. A request for a full-court rehearing was denied earlier this month.
“The federal government’s announcement that it now plans to execute Lezmond Mitchell demonstrates the ultimate disrespect for the Navajo Nation’s values and sovereignty,” his attorneys, Jonathan Aminoff and Celeste Bacchi said in a statement Wednesday.
Mitchell’s execution is one of several scheduled after the Trump administration announced it would resume federal executions after 15 years.
“When the Ninth Circuit stay formally concludes, no legal impediments will bar the execution, and it can occur without further delay,” department officials said in a statement.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr noted Wednesday that courts repeatedly have ruled against Mitchell, TIME reported. But in the ninth circuit's decision, two of the three judges on the panel wrote concurring opinions stating their reservations.
“It is worth pausing to consider why Mitchell faces the prospect of being the first person to be executed by the federal government for an intra-Indian crime, committed in Indian Country, by virtue of a carjacking resulting in death,” Judge Morgan Christen wrote, noting that the decision of federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty went against the wishes of the Navajo Nation, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona and several members of the victims' family.
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