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Lezmond Mitchell’s execution for his part in a 2001 double murder was met with debate from Navajo Nation. Photo: NBC News
Lezmond Mitchell’s execution for his part in a 2001 double murder was met with debate from Navajo Nation. Photo: NBC News

Execution of a Native American Challenges Native Sovereignty

Lezmond Mitchell was executed for murder, but the Navajo Nation says it should have been part of the decision process

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On Wednesday, Aug. 26, the United States executed the only Native American on federal death row via lethal injection.

The man in question was Lezmond Mitchell, 38, a member of the Navajo Nation, convicted for the 2001 murders of a woman and her granddaughter in Arizona

Mitchell was found guilty by a jury — wherein there was only one Navajo — but the issue here is the Navajo Nation opposes capital punishment. The Nation’s Sovereignty, recognized under the U.S. Constitution, dictates leaders can decide whether to apply the death penalty to crimes under the Federal Death Penalty, reported NBC.

But there’s a loophole.

One of the charges Mitchell was found guilty for, carjacking resulting in death, doesn’t require tribal consent. The federal government considers it criminal no matter where it takes place. 

Even after last-minute appeals to the Supreme Court, Mitchell’s pleas were denied, and 19 years after he ended the lives of two people, he was put to death.

“This is a sad day for family members, relatives, and friends of two Navajo families and for the Navajo Nation as a whole,” wrote Jonathan Nez, President of the Navajo Nation in a press release.

“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 letter continues.

Mitchell’s attorneys say he is the first Native American in modern history to be executed by the U.S. government for a crime committed against fellow Native Americans on tribal land.

If anything, however unconstitutional, the execution provided closure for the victim’s families.

“I have waited 19 years to get justice for my daughter, Tiffany,” wrote Tiffany Lee’s father. “But I hope this will bring some closure. Had it not been for the Trump administration, I do not think I would have ever received justice or a sense of finality.”

Mitchell’s execution is the latest in a series of executions carried-out by the Trump administration this summer. 

But this particular execution has reignited the debate over tribal rights and sovereignty. 

“We wish there could have been a time for restoring peace and harmony for all involved in this tragic event, but we will not get that chance,” continued President Jonathan Nez’s statement.

The Navajo Nation was ignored, and disrespected through a legal loophole.

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