Indian Country Today
The National Congress of Americans Indians and more than a dozen tribal nations have joined a growing effort to get President Donald Trump to block a Navajo citizen’s execution, set to take place in less than a week.
NCAI President Fawn Sharp wrote to Trump on Tuesday asking him to grant clemency to Lezmond Mitchell and commute his death sentence to life without the possibility of release.
“If his execution is allowed to proceed, it will set a dangerous precedent,” she said, noting Mitchell was sentenced to death despite his tribe’s objections.
“The Nation has never opted in to the federal death penalty and has consistently opposed capital punishment on cultural and religious grounds,” Sharp wrote.
Navajo Nation Council delegate Carl Slater said Mitchell's death is "a profound insult to Navajo sovereignty," in a New York Times Opinion piece published Wednesday.
Mitchell was convicted of the 2001 murder of a 63-year-old Navajo woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter on the Navajo Nation. The family of the victims has also publicly opposed the execution.
Sharp’s letter also went to Attorney General William Barr and others in the Departments of Justice and Interior.
“The U.S. government’s decision to pursue a death sentence in Mr. Mitchell’s case contravenes both the Navajo Nation’s sovereign prerogatives, as recognized by Congress, and the federal policy of tribal self-determination in general,” she wrote.
Thirteen tribal nations, including the Ely Shoshone Tribe, Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, have submitted similar letters to Trump.
In addition, more than 200 Native individuals have signed an online letter to the president asking for executive clemency of Mitchell.
“Mr. Mitchell’s death sentence deeply offends the tribal sovereignty of the Navajo Nation as well as the values of many Native American people,” the letter says. “He should not be executed, and you [Trump] alone have the power to show him mercy and spare his life.”
These letters come more than a week after Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez appeared virtually before the U.S. pardon attorney in Washington, D.C., to advocate for Mitchell’s clemency.
Mitchell is the only Native person on federal death row, following the Trump administration’s decision to restore federal executions after 17 years.
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Under the Trump administration, 11 commutations have been granted.
The Navajo Nation is currently waiting to learn if Trump will deny or grant the clemency. It’s unclear when that will happen — or if it will happen before Mitchell’s scheduled execution.
An after-hours email seeking comment from the White House on Wednesday was not immediately returned.
Mitchell is set to die by lethal injection Aug. 26 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terra Haute, Indiana.
Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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