Indian Country Today
The Navajo Nation is asking President Donald Trump to reduce the sentence of a Navajo citizen set to be executed by lethal injection later this month.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez appeared virtually before the U.S. pardon attorney in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to advocate for clemency for Lezmond Mitchell. Also in attendance at the hour-and-a-half meeting were two lawyers representing Mitchell.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to discuss Lezmond Mitchell’s case with the Office of the Pardon Attorney,” the attorneys said in a statement.
“We appreciated their thoughtful questions about the tribal sovereignty issues that lie at the heart of this case. President Nez gave a powerful statement about how this case could set an unfortunate precedent for tribes across the United States, and how Lezmond’s death sentence violates the Navajo Nation’s sovereignty, culture and traditional values.”
The meeting came 11 days after the Nez administration penned a letter to Trump requesting executive clemency.
Mitchell was convicted of the 2001 murder of a 63-year-old Navajo woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter on the Navajo Nation.
Mitchell, 38, is the only Native person on federal death row, following the Trump administration’s decision to restore federal executions after 17 years.
Despite the grisly nature of the killings, the Navajo Nation has publicly opposed Mitchell’s execution, citing religious and traditional beliefs. The family of the victims has also publicly opposed Mitchell’s execution.
The Nez administration is asking Trump to commute Mitchell’s death sentence and reduce his term to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Under the Trump administration, 11 commutations have been granted.
“As a general matter, commutation of sentence has long been considered to be an extraordinary remedy that is rarely granted,” the Justice Department’s website states.
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A commutation can reduce a sentence, totally or partially, but does not imply innocence or change the fact of a conviction, according to the department.
Moving forward, Acting Pardon Attorney Rosalind Sargent-Burns will provide an opinion to the deputy attorney general, who will make a recommendation to the president.
Trump will then deny or grant the clemency, and the applicant will be notified of his decision in writing. It’s unclear when that will happen — or if it will happen before Mitchell’s scheduled execution.
For decades, tribes have been able to tell federal prosecutors if they want a death sentence considered for certain crimes on their land. Nearly all tribes have rejected the option of the death penalty.
Mitchell was convicted of carjacking resulting in death — a crime that carries a possible death sentence no matter where it happens, meaning the tribe had no avenue to object.
Last month, the Justice Department carried out three executions. In addition to Mitchell, three other men are scheduled to be put to death in August and September.
- Court upholds death penalty for Navajo man on U.S. death row (May 1, 2020)
- Appeal examines bias claim for Navajo facing death penalty (December 14, 2019)
- Court holds the execution of Navajo man to hear claim of racial bias (October 8, 2019)
- Attorney General restores federal executions; Navajo man on death row (July 26, 2019)
Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at email@example.com.
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