Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American on death row, was executed on Wednesday at a federal prison in Indiana for killing two people in 2001. His execution was criticized by the Navajo Nation leaders who said the U.S. government violated the tribe's culture and sovereignty.
Mitchell was convicted of murdering 63-year-old Alyce Slim and her 9-year-old granddaughter Tiffany Lee – both Navajo people – on reservation land of the Navajo Nation. According to the Federal Death Penalty Act, the U.S. government can seek the death sentence for killings on the reservation land only if the tribe agreed with the sentencing. Initially, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona did not seek execution for Mitchell but did so after being pressured from then-Attorney General John Ashcroft after reportedly finding a "loophole" in the case.
'Federal Government Ignored the Navajo Nation'
Last month, the Navajo leaders sought to commute 38-year-old Mitchell's death sentence to a life term without the possibility of release. Defense attorneys' request seeking more time as Mitchell's mercy petition was considered was shot down by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He was executed with a lethal injection at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.
"The Navajo Nation's position, from the beginning, was to advocate for the sovereign status of the Nation. Our decision not to accept the death penalty in federal cases remains a Navajo decision, but in this instance, the federal government ignored the Navajo Nation. This is an affront to our Nation because we should be the ones to decide these matters," the Navajo Nation said in a statement.
The tribe's leaders also accused the U.S. government of blindsiding the Navajo Nation and ignoring the "collective voice" to commute Mitchell's death sentence. "We don't expect federal officials to understand our strongly held traditions of clan relationship, keeping harmony in our communities, and holding life sacred. What we do expect, no, what we demand, is respect for our people, for our Tribal Nation, and we will not be pushed aside any longer," the Navajo Nation said.
Victims' Family Supports Lezmond Mitchell's Execution
However, the family of the victims supported Mitchell's death penalty and their lawyers recently wrote a letter saying they wanted the execution to be carried since the perpetrator showed no "respect for ... Navajo cultural teachings that stress the sanctity of life."
Daniel Lee, Tiffany Lee's father, told the Associated Press that he believed in the idea of "an eye for an eye" wanted Mitchell to be executed. He also stressed that did not support the opinions of Navajo leaders. "I speak for myself and for my daughter," he told the news agency.
Mitchell's accomplice, who was juvenile at the time of the killings, pleaded guilty and is serving a life term.