Navajo Leaders Say Tribal Member's Execution A Violation Of Tribal Sovereignty

Aug 27, 2020

Navajo Nation leaders say their sovereignty has been violated with the execution Wednesday of a tribal member by the U-S government. Lezmond Mitchell was the only Native American on federal death row. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

The death chamber at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., where Lezmond Mitchell was executed Wednesday.
Credit AP, file

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez’s office says Mitchell’s execution is an affront to the tribe. According to Nez, as a sovereign nation, the tribe doesn’t accept the federal death penalty for tribal members and such decisions should be made by the Navajo justice system in accordance with clan relationships, restorative justice and other customs. 

"We have a court system that is fair and just for all persons," says Nez's office. "We have laws that protect our People. We have brave men and women on our police force to watch over us. Crimes committed on the Navajo Nation are for us to decide. Our judicial and public safety system considers restorative justice in court cases as based on our custom and traditions of hozho’ and k’e."

Nez also offered prayers to the families of the victims as well as Mitchell’s family.

Navajo leaders had asked President Trump to commute Mitchell’s sentence to life in prison, but he was executed by lethal injection Wednesday evening.

Mitchell and an accomplice were convicted in the brutal 2001 murders of 9-year-old Tiffany Lee and her grandmother, Alyce Slim, on the Navajo Nation.

Mitchell’s execution is the fourth death penalty carried out this year since the Trump administration reinstated federal capital punishment. The executions have all involved violence against children. Death penalty advocates say resuming executions at the federal level brings justice to victims and families.