2020: Lezmond Mitchell

Add comment August 26th, 2020 Headsman

Although overshadowed by wildfires, hurricanes, political drama, economic collapse, civil unrest, and a goddamned pandemic, a noteworthy federal execution took place on August 26, 2020.

Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American on federal death row, was killed by lethal injection at Terre Haute, Indiana for murdering 63-year-old Alyce Slim and her nine-year-old granddaughter Tiffany Lee. The offender and both victims were members of the Navajo Nation, and the crimes occurred on the Navajo Reservation in the northeast corner of Arizona.

Mitchell and a companion named Johnny Osringer — underaged, and therefore serving a life sentence instead — were picked up hitchhiking by the victims in 2001. They stabbed Alyce Slim to death when she stopped to let them out, then to murder the terrified little girl in greater privacy, drove her 30 miles into the mountains sitting next to her grandmother’s bloody corpse.

The horrific crime carried with it a problematic jurisdictional question that’s legacy of the continent’s Anglo conquest.

Within their treaty lands, indigenous nations still assert internal sovereignty when it comes to handling criminal offenses — sovereignty that Congress has legislated against by placing some big-ticket crimes like murder and rape under federal jurisdiction.

Neither this arrogation of authority in general nor its application to Mitchell in particular have been embraced by the Navajo Nation, which has advocated against the execution for many years and on the day it occurred issued a statement denouncing it.

The Navajo Nation’s position, from the beginning, was to advocate for the sovereign status of the Nation. Our decision not to accept the death penalty in federal cases remains a Navajo decision, but in this instance the federal government ignored the Navajo Nation. This is an affront to our Nation because we should be the ones to decide these matters. The federal government charged a crime that was added in 1994 to the Federal Death Penalty Act and blindsided the Navajo Nation by using this to sidestep the Navajo Nation’s position.

We have a court system that is fair and just for all persons. We have laws that protect our People. We have brave men and women on our police force to watch over us. Crimes committed on the Navajo Nation are for us to decide. Our judicial and public safety system considers restorative justice in court cases as based on our custom and traditions of hozho’ and k’e. Federal officials may not understand our family connections and our strength in keeping harmony. So, we invite them to meet with us and find an answer to address this important death penalty matter.

The Navajo Nation asked for clemency in Mr. Mitchell’s case in changing his sentence to life in prison without possibility of release. This is the same request supported by U.S. Senators, U.S. House Representatives, Tribal Nations, and tribal organizations. But our collective voice was ignored. We don’t expect federal officials to understand our strongly held traditions of clan relationship, keeping harmony in our communities, and holding life sacred. What we do expect, no, what we demand, is respect for our People, for our Tribal Nation, and we will not be pushed aside any longer.

We thank the many Tribal Nations who supported the Navajo Nation’s stand on sovereignty, and we appreciate the Tribal organization’s letters advocating for tribal sovereignty. We now call on all Tribal Nations and Tribal organizations to begin a dialogue on a respect for tribal sovereignty, respect for all Tribal Nation, and respect for Native Americans. We are moving forward in this fight and we ask all to join us.

Mitchell’s was the fourth federal execution conducted in little more than a month as part of a calculated campaign by Trump administration attorney general William Barr. Prior to the current paroxysm, the United States federal government (as distinct from its 50 states’ separate jurisdictions) had conducted only three executions — all in the early 2000s, most notably Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh — in the past 57 years.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arizona,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,U.S. Federal,USA

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2020: Daniel Lewis Lee

1 comment July 14th, 2020 Headsman

This morning in Terre Haute, Indiana, like the French guillotine making its way to the western front, America’s twilight men saluted Bastille Day by animating their empire’s creaking machinery on an absurd project to kill one guy to nobody’s edification in the midst of a rolling bloodbath.

Back in 1996, Daniel Lewis Lee traveled from Washington state to Arkansas with fellow white supremacist Chevie Kehoe where they slaughtered a family of three in the course of a robbery aimed at financing a racist enclave in the Pacific Northwest. Gun dealer William Mueller, his wife Nancy, and their eight-year-old daughter Sarah Powell were bound hand and foot and suffocated with plastic bags taped over their heads, before being dumped in a bayou. Kehoe and Lee netted $50,000 in cash and weapons.*

Yet family members of those victims were the most vocal critics of executing Lee.

For one thing, everyone involved in the case, including the prosecuting attorney and trial judge, agrees that Kehoe was the instigator of the crime. But perversely, it was Kehoe who received the lighter sentence. Sometimes this occurs when a wily ringleader turns state’s-evidence against his confederates; in the case at hand, it might have been nothing but the comparative visual affect presented to jurors by the baby-faced Kehoe as compared to the menacing Lee, one-eyed (courtesy of a bar fight) and swastika-tattooed. The two were tried and convicted together in a death case; when the jury returned a life sentence for Kehoe, the U.S. Attorney on the case attempted to withdraw the death notice still pending against Lee, only to be overruled by higher-ups at the Department of Justice.

Earlene Peterson, Nancy Mueller’s mother and Sarah Powell’s grandmother, “believes the jury’s prejudices led to Kehoe and Lee receiving different sentences,” according to a Reason magazine profile.

“Chevie Kehoe was dressed very nicely, like a young businessman, and Daniel Lee was not,” Peterson said, noting that Lee was missing an eye and had a swastika tattooed on his neck. “He looked like an outlaw,” and “was instantly judged the minute he walked into the courtroom,” she says.

And Peterson, joined by several other family members, didn’t want anyone whether businessman or outlaw executed in her name.

Peterson, her granddaughter Monica Veillette, and Kimma Gurel (Nancy Mueller’s sister) sued in federal courts arguing that conducting the execution in the midst of the dangerous COVID-19 outbreak frustrated their right and expressed desire to witness Lee’s execution. But what they would have preferred most of all would have been no execution at all, regardless of COVID; they petitioned President Trump to this same effect.** “For us it is a matter of being there and saying, ‘This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,'” Veillette told the press.

As everyone knows, victims/survivors with an attitude of clemency get no special consideration in the breach from the closure-for-victims crowd. Thus while Attorney General William Barr scheduled Lee’s execution — along with four others — last year to the familiar strains of “We owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” his agency defeated these victims’ family members by arguing that their allowance to witness the execution was in fact not any sort of “right” that anyone was “owed.” The first federal execution in 17 years was delayed half a day from its Monday-afternoon schedule by a last-minute judicial injunction that was predictably reversed by the Supreme Court: that issue concerned the lethal injection drug selection.

Peterson, Veillette, and Gurel did not in the end attend the execution, for fear of the coronavirus. Besides being afoot broadly, it was known to have broken out in the Terre Haute federal prison. In fact, one of the execution planners tested positive for COVID-19 just days before the execution and the small viewing chamber reserved for official witnesses makes no allowance for social distancing. (Prison officials and the “Appalachian pagan minister” present to conduct the execution itself also wore no masks, nor did the executed criminal himself.) Considering the short shrift federal authorities have given to protective measures surrounding people who didn’t commit triple homicide, it’s no surprise that the pandemic was also no obstacle, with Barr making the Orwellian assurance — which doubles as a distillation of his philosophy of governance — that his team could “carry out these executions without being at risk.”

* Lee later also pipe-bombed the Spokane, Washington, city hall.

** Lee’s was the first execution to proceed on Donald Trump’s say-so.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Indiana,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Theft,U.S. Federal,USA

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