Navajo death row inmate seeks Supreme Court review of case

Flagstaff, Ariz. • Attorneys for the only Native American on federal death row are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision regarding potential racial bias in the case.

Lezmond Mitchell is scheduled to be put to death Aug. 26 at a federal prison in Indiana where he’s being held. He lost a bid in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to interview jurors.

The appeals court said Mitchell, who is Navajo, failed to show any discrimination occurred among the jury and pointed out several safeguards that were in place.

Mitchell appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court late last week.

Mitchell's attorneys say his trial was tainted by inaccurate reporting, a largely white jury and prosecutors inappropriately referencing Navajo religious beliefs and culture. Most federal districts within the 9th Circuit allow attorneys to contact jurors after the trial ends. Arizona does not.

“This is an intolerable disparity in the death-penalty context,” Mitchell’s attorneys wrote in court documents.

Mitchell and an accomplice abducted Alyce Slim, 63, and her granddaughter in 2001 and planned to use Slim’s vehicle in a robbery. Prosecutors said the two fatally stabbed Slim and slit the girl’s throat. Their beheaded, mutilated bodies were found in a shallow grave on the Arizona portion of the Navajo Nation.

The tribe objected to the death penalty, a position that typically is honored by the federal government when Native Americans commit crimes on tribal land.

But Mitchell was convicted of carjacking resulting in death — a crime that carries a possible death sentence no matter where it happens, meaning the Navajo Nation had no avenue to object.