The Justice Department on Wednesday rescheduled the execution of a convicted murderer who killed a 63-year-old woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter back in 2001.
If the execution, scheduled for August 26, takes place, Lezmond Mitchell would become the fourth federal death-row inmate to be put to death after a 17-year hiatus.
In July, three death-row inmates—Daniel Lewis Lee
, Wesley Ira Purkey
, and Dustin Lee Honken
—were put to death by lethal injection at a federal prison in Indiana after unsuccessful attempts to delay their executions in the courts. All three men were convicted of murdering children.
Mitchell's execution was previously scheduled for December 2019
but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked the event while his case played out in the courts. In April, the court of appeals unanimously rejected Mitchell's claim and denied his request for a full-court rehearing earlier this month.
Mitchell is expected to also die by lethal injection at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, the department said.
“Allowing Mr. Mitchell’s execution to go forward would be a grave injustice and an unprecedented affront to tribal sovereignty, and it should not be permitted to proceed,” his attorneys said in a statement to Reuters
Mitchell was convicted for the 2001 murders
of Alyce Slim and her granddaughter in a carjacking in Arizona. Mitchell was convicted of stabbing the 63-year-old grandmother, throwing her body into the backseat next to the child, and driving her pickup truck about 40 miles into the mountains. There Mitchell ordered the 9-year-old to lay down and brutally murdered her, prosecutors said. He then attempted to dispose of the bodies and burned their clothes.
Mitchell later confessed to the murders and a jury in a district court in Arizona found him guilty of several federal crimes including first-degree murder, felony murder, and carjacking resulting in death, the department said.
In July 2019, Attorney General William Barr announced that he has directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons
to adopt an addendum to the federal protocol, which will clear the way for the federal government to resume capital punishment. Five convicted murderers were scheduled to be executed in the announcement, including Mitchell.
However, the executions were blocked after legal challenges were filed in an effort to delay the executions. One challenge sought to clarify the law
on how the government carries out federal executions, which the Supreme Court declined to hear, paving way for the Trump administration to proceed with their plan.
In June, the government scheduled the executions of Lee, Purkey, Honken, and Keith Dwayne Nelson for dates in July and August, prompting widespread criticism. Critics say the scheduling had no regard for the safety and health of those involved.
Nelson, whose execution is set for August 28, is expected to become the fifth death-row inmate to be put to death by lethal injection. He was convicted of kidnapping a 10-year-old girl who was rollerblading in front of her Kansas home and sexually assaulting her in a forest behind a church before strangling the young girl to death with a wire.
Mitchell is a member of the Navajo Nation and the only Native American on federal death row.
Zachary Stieber, Isabel Van Brugen, Reuters contributed to this report.