Navajo Nation Turns to Trump As Execution Nears

Judge called the prosecution 'a betrayal of a promise'
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 13, 2020 6:10 PM CDT
Navajo Nation Asks Trump to Commute Death Sentence
Jonathan Nez addresses the crowd in 2019 after he was sworn in as president of the Navajo Nation in Fort Defiance, Arizona.   (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca, File)

With the execution scheduled for less than two weeks from now, the Navajo Nation has asked President Trump to spare the life of Lezmond Mitchell. Capital punishment violates Navajo beliefs and would pose a challenge to tribal sovereignty, leaders said. "We strongly hold to our cultural, traditional, and religious beliefs that life is sacred," President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer wrote. Mitchell was convicted of killing a 9-year-old girl and her grandmother, both of whom were Navajo, on a reservation in 2001, NPR reports. After 17 years, the US resumed executions in July. The same month, the Justice Department scheduled Mitchell’s execution for Aug. 26, per Reuters. "It's a complete slap in the face to our values and our justice system and the deference that's owed to us as guest of ours on this land," said a member of the Navajo Nation Council.

This would be the first execution in the modern history of the death penalty by the federal government for a crime committed against fellow tribe members on tribal lands. Usually, tribes have to agree to let the government pursue the death penalty. When the Navajo Naiton refused permission, federal prosecutors added a carjacking count and asked for the death penalty on that charge. Judges have raised objections, with one writing that—though the maneuver was legal—the government was guilty of "a betrayal of a promise made to the Navajo Nation." In a letter to Trump, Nez said a life sentence would be "appropriate to begin to restore harmony and balance to the affected families and to the inherent sovereignty of the Navajo Nation." Nez will speak at a clemency hearing Tuesday. (Read more Navajo stories.)

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