Despite opposition from the Navajo Nation and some members of the victims’ family, the U.S. government has set an execution date for Lezmond Mitchell for August 26, 2020. Mr. Mitchell, a Navajo, is the only Native American on federal death row.
Should this execution proceed, it will be the first time in modern American history that the federal government has executed a Native American tribal member. The federal government secured a death sentence against Mr. Mitchell notwithstanding the objections of the Navajo Nation, members of the victims’ family, and the local United States Attorney’s Office. Mr. Mitchell was just 20 at the time of the crime with no history of violence, while his juvenile co-defendant, who was the primary aggressor and had previously murdered two people in an unrelated incident, received a sentence of life imprisonment.
Below is a statement from counsel for Mr. Mitchell. Deputy Federal Public Defenders Jonathan Aminoff and Celeste Bacchi:
“With the enactment of the Federal Death Penalty Act, Congress made a commitment to the Native American peoples that no Native American would be subjected to the death penalty for a crime committed against a fellow Native American on Native American land unless the tribe consented. In what the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals referred to as a “betrayal of a promise made to the Navajo Nation,” the Department of Justice exploited a legal loophole and sought the death penalty against Mr. Mitchell for the federal crime of carjacking over the objection of the Navajo Nation, the victims’ family, and the local United States Attorney’s Office. 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.
The Government’s contravention of tribal autonomy did not end with the decision to pursue a death sentence against Mr. Mitchell. In addition to the charging decision, the Government committed misconduct in the course of this prosecution by confining Mr. Mitchell in a tribal jail where they continually interrogated him over the course of 25 days without providing him an attorney. Furthermore, the Government systematically excluded Navajos from serving on Mr. Mitchell’s jury, resulting in a jury composed of 11 white people and only one Navajo. Unfortunately, we have been barred from investigating concerns of juror bias amongst Mr. Mitchell’s jury. Under these circumstances, allowing Mr. Mitchell’s execution to go forward would be a grave injustice and an unprecedented affront to tribal sovereignty, and it should not be permitted to proceed. We will continue to pursue all available avenues of relief for Mr. Mitchell from his unconstitutional convictions and death sentence.”
-Deputy Federal Public Defenders Jonathan Aminoff and Celeste Bacchi, attorneys for Lezmond Mitchell
-July 29, 2020
Case Background on Mr. Mitchell can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/
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