Lezmond Mitchell, a 38-year-old convicted murderer on federal death row, was put to death on Wednesday in Terre Haute, Indiana, the Department of Justice announced in a statement.
“Today, Lezmond Mitchell was executed at U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute in accordance with the capital sentence imposed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in 2003. Mitchell was pronounced dead at 6:29 EDT by the Vigo County Coroner,” DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement.
“Nearly 19 years after Lezmond Mitchell brutally ended the lives of two people, destroying the lives of many others, justice finally has been served,” she added.
Mitchell was convicted of murdering 63-year-old Alyce Slim and 9-year-old Tiffany Lee—Slim’s granddaughter—as part of a carjacking in Arizona in October 2001. The DOJ noted that Mitchell later confessed to the murders and also led law enforcement officials to the victims’ remains.
When Mitchell was asked by a prison official if he had any last words for victims’ family members and other witnesses behind glass at the death chamber, he casually responded, “No, I’m good.”
Moments later, prison officials began the lethal injection of pentobarbital inside a small, pale-green death chamber. After 10 minutes, Mitchell no longer appeared to move and his partially tattooed hands turned pale. About 15 minutes later, an official with a stethoscope walked into the death chamber, checked for a pulse on Mitchell’s neck and listened to his heart. He walked back out and a voice over the sound system declared Mitchell dead.
The DOJ statement described the nature of Mitchell’s crimes.
“After getting a ride from Slim in her pickup truck, Mitchell and an accomplice stabbed her 33 times and threw her body into the backseat beside her granddaughter,” the DOJ statement read. “Mitchell then drove the truck deep into the mountains, ordered the girl [9-year-old Tiffany Lee] out of the truck ‘to lay down and die,’ slit her throat twice, and crushed her head with rocks.”
He and an accomplice proceeded to dismember the two victims’ bodies, burn their clothes, and bury them.
A federal jury in May 2003 found Mitchell guilty of a number of federal crimes including first-degree murder, felony murder, and carjacking resulting in death. The district court imposed the jury’s recommended death sentence.
“His convictions and sentence were affirmed on appeal, and his claims for collateral relief were denied by every court that considered them,” Kupec noted in her statement.
“In attendance at the execution this evening were representatives of the victims’ families as well as the father of the nine-year-old girl that Mitchell murdered,” she added. “Those family members, who are members of the Navajo Nation, have stated on the record that they supported implementation of the sentence returned by the jury and imposed by the court for Mitchell’s horrific federal crimes.”
Some Navajo leaders had tried to persuade Trump to commute Mitchell’s sentence to life in prison.
Mitchell’s lawyers, who had issued last-minute appeals for a stay, said in a statement that the execution “added another chapter to its long history of injustices against Native American people.”
“Mr. Mitchell’s execution represents a gross insult to the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation, whose leaders had personally called on the President to commute his sentence to life without possibility of release,” his lawyers, Jonathan Aminoff and Celeste Bacchi, said in a statement. “The very fact that he faced execution despite the tribe’s opposition to a death sentence for him reflected the government’s disdain for tribal sovereignty.”
Donel Lee, Tiffany Lee’s older brother, thanked Trump for not stopping the execution and criticized the opposition by the Navajo Nation president.
“He will have to answer to God why he wanted this murderer to live,” Donel Lee said, according to The Associated Press. “But now I’m at peace with it and justice is served. Now he (Mitchell) has to answer to God, and I hope my little sister was standing there with God while he judged him.”
Tiffany Lee’s father, Daniel Lee, told The Associated Press that he believes in the principle of “an eye for an eye” and wanted Mitchell to die for the killings. He also said Navajo leaders don’t speak for him: “I speak for myself and for my daughter.”
Michael Slim, the grandson and cousin of the victims, has sat on both sides of the courtroom during Mitchell’s court cases. An outlier in his family, he supported putting Mitchell to death but gradually changed his mind over the years and said that should be left up to God.
“We are all guilty of sin, so it’s not fair for us to condemn someone,” he said, reported The Associated Press. “It’s not my job to say ‘we should kill him.'”
Family and friends described Slim, a school bus driver who was approaching retirement, as gracious, spiritual, and well-liked by students on her route.
Prior to this year, the federal government had carried out just three executions since 1963, all of them between 2001 and 2003, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was among them.
The first of the resumed executions was of former white supremacist Daniel Lewis Lee on July 14. Two others, Wesley Purkey and Dustin Honken, were executed later the same week. The victims of all three also included children.
The executions of Christopher Andre Vialva and William Emmett LeCroy are scheduled for late September.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.