Will leadership ask death penalty be set aside?

LOS ANGELES

Back in 1996, the Navajo Nation government stepped up and saved one of its members from being executed by the federal government for the murder of four of his five children.

The question now is whether it will do the same for another tribal member who is scheduled for execution in December. Lezmond Mitchell, 38, is set for execution for a 2001 carjacking during which a 63-year-old Navajo woman and her nine-year-old granddaughter were killed. In the 1996 case, federal prosecutors said they were going for the death penalty after the conviction of Norman Dean Yazzie for killing his four young daughters and wounding his son.

According to court records, his five children were in the living room of the family trailer in Dennehotso, Arizona, watching “All dogs go to heaven” when their father went into his bedroom, got a rifle, came back and began shooting them as they sat on the couch. According to a letter he left in the bedroom to his estranged wife, the shootings were retaliation against her after he saw her that day in the company of another man.

The shootings were mourned by everyone on the reservation and many felt he should receive the death penalty. But President Peterson Zah and the Navajo Nation Council pushed for leniency saying the Navajo people did not believe in the death penalty.

During Yazzie’s sentencing in 1997, U.S. District Judge Earl Carroll said that while he felt Yazzie deserved the death penalty, he would honor the wishes of the Navajo Nation. He then sentenced Yazzie to life plus 85 years. Yazzie, 54, is currently incarcerated at the Victorville Medium security prison in Victorville, California. He is listed as being given life with no chance of parole.


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About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.