Lezmond Charles Mitchell

In a case that raised troubling issues of tribal sovereignty, Navajo nation member Lezmond Mitchell was executed on August 26, 2020, for the murders of 63-year old Alyce Slim and her 9-year old granddaughter, Tiffany Lee. Federal executions of Native Americans had been rare since the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 had allowed tribal nations to opt out of the use of the death penalty. The Navajo nation had chosen that option.

The October 28, 2001, murder occurred as part of a plan to steal a car to use in an armed robbery. Twenty-year old Lezmond Mitchell’s accomplice, 16-year old Johnny Orsinger, was ineligible for the death penalty due to his age.

The two assailants carjacked Slim’s vehicle near Twin Lakes, New Mexico. Slim drove into Arizona, where all the parties to the case lived. The assault began near Sawmill, Arizona, when Orsinger began stabbing Slim numerous times, killing her. The men then drove the two victims into the nearby mountains where Lee was murdered, the two were decapitated, and their bodies were buried.

Mitchell was arrested on November 1, 2001, one day after robbing a store on the reservation. A witness noted the license plate of the escape vehicle – Slim’s pickup truck – and notified police.

Mitchell was tried in federal court in Phoenix in 2003; the Bush Administration Department of Justice chose to pursue the death penalty in flagrant disregard of the 1994 Act and Navajo opposition. A jury of eleven white and one Native jurors convicted Mitchell.

Mitchell’s appeal was denied in 2007.

Despite Native objections, no history of violence, extended isolation of Mitchell prior to police questioning, evidence of inadequate defense, and evidence that Orsinger was the principal in the crimes, Mitchell’s clemency request was denied.

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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