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Attorneys for Navajo man file stay of execution

WINDOW ROCK

Attorneys for Lezmond Mitchell filed a motion for stay of execution with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Sept. 9.

Mitchell was convicted in 2003 for two counts of first-degree murder of Alyce Jim and her nine-year-old granddaughter, carjacking resulting in death, and multiple counts of robbery.

He was sentenced to death under the federal Death Penalty Act because of his conviction for carjacking resulting death.

In July, Attorney General William P. Barr directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to adopt a proposed addendum to the Federal Execution Protocol, which cleared the way for the federal government to resume capital punishment.

Lezmond is among other death row inmates who are scheduled to be executed beginning in December. Mitchell’s execution date is set for Dec. 11.

His attorneys filed a motion on behalf of Mitchell in hopes he is granted a stay. They argue their client’s ethnicity – a Navajo Indian – as well as his constitutional rights, were violated.

“The government also held Mr. Mitchell in a tribal jail and repeatedly interrogated him, without affording him his constitutional rights,” Mitchell’s lawyers wrote in a statement. “It then took aggressive steps to exclude Native Americans from serving on his jury, and its arguments to the jury included comments directed against Mitchell’s Navajo heritage. Mr. Mitchell’s death sentence thus represents an unprecedented denigration of tribal sovereignty.”

Mitchell appealed his conviction to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, and in 2007, they upheld his conviction and sentence, concluding there were “no errors” that required a reversal.

Despite this, his lawyers say Mitchell was granted a certificate of appealability in April by the court that issued a briefing schedule that would allow their client to litigate the constitutionality of his death sentence.

“Without any prior warning, the government gave notice that it intends to execute Mitchell,” the motion for stay of execution read. “Mitchel respectfully moves this court for a stay of execution such that he may litigate his appeal to conclusion.”

Mitchell is the only Native American person under the federal death sentence. The Navajo Nation opposes the death penalty, they added.