WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to reschedule the execution of Lezmond Mitchell, 38, a federal Death Row inmate who was convicted more than 17 years ago.
Mitchell, a Navajo, has been on Death Row following his sentencing after he was convicted of the brutal murders of a Navajo woman and her nine-year-old granddaughter. The execution, initially scheduled for last December, is now scheduled to occur on August 26, 2020, at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.
In October 2001, Mitchell murdered Alyce Slim, a 63-year-old grandmother, and her nine-year-old granddaughter as part of a carjacking in Arizona. After Slim stopped on the Navajo Nation to give Mitchell and another man, Johnny Orsinger, a ride in her pickup truck, the pair stabbed her 33 times and threw her body into the back of the truck and put her granddaughter in there beside her grandmother's body. Mitchell then drove the truck 30 to 40 miles into the mountains, ordered the girl "to lay down and die," slit her throat twice, and when she didn't die, Mitchell and Orsinger crushed her head with heavy rocks. The pair proceeded to sever the heads and hands of the victims' bodies and burn their clothes. He later confessed to the murders.
In May 2003, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona found him guilty of numerous federal crimes, including first-degree murder, felony murder, and carjacking resulting in death - and he was sentenced to death. His convictions and sentence were affirmed on appeal, and his claims for collateral relief were denied by each court that considered them.
Mitchell's execution was initially scheduled for December 2019, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit entered a stay of execution while it resolved an additional appeal by Mitchell who wanted his attorneys to be able to question jury members over possible racial bias. The court of appeals unanimously rejected Mitchell's claim in April 2020 and denied his request for full-court rehearing earlier this month. When the Ninth Circuit stay formally concludes, no legal impediments will bar the execution, and it can occur without further delay.
"The federal government's announcement that it now plans to execute Lezmond Mitchell demonstrates the ultimate disrespect for the Navajo Nation's values and sovereignty," Mitchell's attorneys, Jonathan Aminoff and Celeste Bacchi said on Wednesday in a statement.
The Navajo Nation and the victims' family both oppose the carrying out of the execution.
Mitchell, the only Native American on federal Death Row, will now be put to death two days after Keith Dwayne Nelson. Nelson is scheduled to be executed at 4:00pm local time on Friday, August 28, 2020, at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. Nelson, 45, was convicted of kidnapping 10-year-old Pamela Butler from her Kansas City, Kansas home, and murdering her in a forest behind a church in Missouri on October 12, 1999.
Three other federal inmates were executed earlier this month by lethan injection: Dustin Honken, Wesley Purkey and Daniel Lewis Lee. All were convicted of killing children.
Until the Trump administration came into office there had been a hold on carrying out executions of inmates of federal prisons for nearly two decades due to the controversy over capital punishment. Until Attorney General Barr's reintroduction of the death penalty, there had been a de-facto moratorium since 2003.
Sixty-two federal prisoners are on Death Row, including Dylann Roof, the gunman who massacred nine worshippers at a church service in California in 2015, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who planted two bombs which killed three people and injured more than 260 when they exploded during the 2013 Boston Marathon.