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This Man Will Die Tonight Against a Government's Wishes

The Navajo Nation has been opposed to the death penalty for Lezmond Mitchell from the start
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 26, 2020 9:50 AM CDT
Updated Aug 26, 2020 9:55 AM CDT

(Newser) – After a 17-year pause, federal executions resumed this summer, with three men put to death. A fourth man on federal death row is slated to experience the same fate tonight in Terre Haute, Ind., but that fate is one a government—the Navajo government—has vehemently opposed. That's because Lezmond Mitchell, 38, was convicted of two murders that happened on tribal land in Arizona, and his attorneys say this: "This case represents the only time in the history of the modern death penalty that the United States government has sought the death penalty over the objection of a Native American tribe when the criminal conduct in question was committed on tribal land." Details of the case:

  • The crime: Mitchell, then 20, and Johnny Orsinger, then 16, in 2001 hailed a ride from Alyce Slim, 63; she was traveling to Arizona from New Mexico with her 9-year-old granddaughter, Tiffany Lee. Authorities say the men stabbed Slim 33 times and put her body next to Tiffany; Mitchell later slit the child's throat, and the Arizona Republic reports the act didn't kill her, so Orsinger used rocks to end her life. The bodies were dismembered and buried, and Mitchell later used Slim's truck to rob a reservation general store.
  • The case: The Marshall Project in 2019 cited court filings that showed Navajo Nation leaders, along with Marlene Slim (daughter of Alyce and mother to Tiffany) asking the Justice Department not to seek the death penalty. The federal prosecutor told the DOJ he was not recommending they seek capital punishment. Under the Federal Death Penalty Act, the US government may not seek death in cases where Native Americans commit a crime against other Native Americans on tribal land, unless the tribe gives the government its blessing. The Navajo Nation does not support capital punishment.
  • The loophole: John Ashcroft, who was attorney general at the time, used what the Marshall Project calls "a legal work-around" to seek a death sentence. He based it on the allegation that Mitchell committed a carjacking resulting in death. The Indianapolis Star reports that's a crime that has "nationwide applicability," meaning it can be charged as a federal crime wherever it occurs.

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