Navajo Nation Urges Trump to Commute Sentence of Only Native American on Federal Death Row

The president of the Navajo Nation has urged President Donald Trump to commute the sentence of Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American on federal death row.

Mitchell, a Navajo, is set to be executed on August 26 for the 2001 murders of a 63-year-old Navajo woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter, the U.S. government announced last month.

Prosecutors said Mitchell, who was 20 at the time, and an accomplice abducted Alyce Slim and the girl as part of a carjacking.

The pair stabbed Slim 33 times and dumped her body in the backseat of her pickup. The girl was forced to sit beside her dead grandmother as they drove to the mountains, where they slit her throat before crushing her head with rocks. Their bodies were found in the Navajo Nation in Arizona.

Despite this, the tribe, including members of the victims' family, has long opposed the death sentence for 38-year-old Mitchell.

In a letter provided to Newsweek, Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez and vice president Myron Lizer asked Trump to commute Mitchell's sentence, saying it would "begin to restore harmony and balance to the affected families and to the inherent sovereignty of the Navajo Nation."

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez holds a letter from a Navajo family while distributing food, water, and other supplies on May 27, 2020 in Huerfano on the Navajo Nation Reservation, New Mexico. Sharon Chischilly/Getty Images

"The United States Department of Justice sought the death penalty against Mr. Mitchell despite the Navajo Nation's public opposition, against the express wishes of the victim's family, and ostensibly against the recommendation of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona," Nez and Lizer said in the letter.

They urged the president to respect the tribe's sovereignty by commuting his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"This request honors our religious and traditional beliefs, the Navajo Nation's long-standing position on the death penalty for Native Americans, and our respect for the decision of the victim's family."

They noted that the Federal Death Penalty Act gave the Navajo Nation the ability to opt-in to the death penalty for certain crimes committed on their land, such as murder.

But by seeking the death penalty for Mitchell for the offense of carjacking resulting in death, a federal crime that can be punished with death regardless of where it takes place, the U.S. government "ignored the intent of the tribal opt-in provisions."

They added that Navajo Nation officials have repeatedly expressed the tribe's opposition to the death penalty in Mitchell's case since his conviction in 2002.

Navajo cultural teachings "stress the sanctity of life and instruct against the taking of human life for vengeance," they said.

"This respect for life was weighed against the heinous crimes committed by Mr. Mitchell that resulted in the death of a grandmother and her granddaughter."

They added: "The Navajo Nation and the family of the victims have not changed their position; the Navajo Nation has not opted-in for the death penalty and we strongly hold to our cultural, traditional, and religious beliefs that life is sacred."

Nez and Lizer added that Mitchell's commutation is necessary to restore the relationship between the tribe and the federal government.

"The sovereignty of the Navajo Nation and our decision, while clearly explained, was marginalized," they said. "We need to address this issue to move forward in our trust of our federal partners and to continue to work on the importance of protecting our People."

The Department of Justice has been contacted for comment.