Should A Legal Loophole Allow the Execution of a Native American?

Death Penalty Action
13 min readAug 12, 2020

A (Somewhat) Brief Explainer about the Legalities Surrounding the Federal Government’s Planned Execution of Lezmond Mitchell

Monument Valley on Navajo tribal lands. Photo by Griffin Hardy.

by Griffin Hardy

[A Note about Terms: The word “Indian” will be used at several points in this article. This should not be construed as an endorsement of that terminology. Federal law refers to “Indians,” “Indian tribes,” and “Indian Country” in almost every statute related to the federal-tribal relationship. The word holds a particular legal meaning and is used here as a legal term of art when referencing these laws — nothing more.]

The federal government is planning to execute Lezmond Mitchell, a member of the Navajo Nation, on August 26th. Mitchell was convicted of killing fellow tribe members Alyce Slim, a 63-year-old grandmother, and Tiffany Lee, Slim’s 9-year-old granddaughter, during a crime spree that spread across a large swath of the 27,000 square-mile Navajo reservation in 2001.

Murder victim family member Bill Pelke helps lead protests during the federal executions in Terre Haute, Indiana in July, 2020. Photo by Scott Langley. Take action at

As the execution date approaches, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) is working hard to shift attention from its gross invasion of the Navajo Nation’s sovereignty by continually bringing up Mitchell’s heinous crimes and the suffering of the victims. We of course mourn the loss of Alyce Slim and Tiffany Lee and stand with their families in their grief. Their deaths were horrendously, unspeakably brutal and there is no denying that Mitchell must be held accountable for his actions. But the DOJ’s insistence that its conveyor belt of executions is about “justice for victims” is once again disproven here because members of the victims’ families do not support the plan to execute Mitchell.

So, what is this execution really about? Like most executions in the United States, there is a political element. It is election season and the incumbent president wants to present himself as “tough on crime” while drawing a distinction between himself and his opponent on this issue. Those of us who know anything about the death penalty are already aware that executions are a sign of weakness, not strength. That concept has not yet reached some voters…

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