Navajo man executed in federal prison after SCOTUS refuses to intervene in controversial case

Many in the Native American community are speaking out following the execution this week of a convicted killer who belonged to the Navajo Nation.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it would not intervene to stop federal authorities in Indiana from carrying out the controversial death penalty order against Lezmond Mitchell, as reported by The Hill.

“Justice has finally been served”

As the U.S. Department of Justice confirmed in a news release, he was executed on Wednesday at a federal prison in Terre Haute.

According to the Associated Press, spokesperson Kerri Kupec touted the outcome as a resolution of the case against Mitchell, who was convicted of murdering an elderly woman and her granddaughter.

“Nearly 19 years after Lezmond Mitchell brutally ended the lives of two people, destroying the lives of many others, justice finally has been served,” Kupec said.

Among members of the Navajo Nation, however, the conviction and execution marked a breach of trust and violation of sacred beliefs.

Navajo Nation Attorney General Levon Henry made that case in a 2002 letter to the Justice Department, noting that capital punishment is antithetical to the nation’s cultural values.

“A profound insult”

“Navajo holds life sacred,” he wrote, adding that members’ “culture and religion teach us to value life and instruct against the taking of human life for vengeance.”

A similar condemnation came in the form of an op-ed in The New York Times by Navajo Nation Council delegate Carl Slater.

He called Mitchell’s sentence “a profound insult to Navajo sovereignty,” adding that “activists have argued that Mr. Mitchell’s case exemplifies the fraught relationship between tribes and federal law enforcement, which often disregards protections for tribal sovereignty.”

Though the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately rejected Mitchell’s appeal, Judge Morgan Christen addressed the underlying controversy in the decision, writing that “it is worth pausing to consider why Mitchell faces the prospect of being the first person to be executed by the federal government for an intra-Indian crime, committed in Indian country, by virtue of a conviction for carjacking resulting in death.”

While no one is attempting to excuse the actions that resulted in Mitchell’s conviction, his case continues to serve as evidence of the continued struggle between sovereignty and inclusion among the nation’s Native American reservations.

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