Death Penalty

The Trump Administration Prepares to Set a Modern Record for Federal Executions

Lezmond Mitchell is scheduled to die Wednesday, over the objections of the Navajo Nation to which he belongs and on whose land the murder took place.

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As Republicans try to present President Donald Trump as a criminal justice reformer, his administration is about to set a modern record for executing federal prisoners.

Lezmond Mitchell, now 38, and an underage accomplice were convicted of carjacking and murdering Alyce Slim, 63, and her granddaughter, Tiffany Lee, 9, in 2001. Mitchell was 20 at the time. The feds got involved because the crime took place on Navajo land, and everybody involved (both killers and victims) were Navajo.

The teen accomplice, Johnny Orsinger, was sentenced to life in prison. Mitchell was sentenced to death. He is scheduled for to be executed by lethal injection on Wednesday.

Until Trump appointed William Barr attorney general, Mitchell was essentially serving a life sentence as well. The federal death penalty was for a time deemed unconstitutional, following a Supreme Court ruling in 1972 in Furman v. Georgia. The federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988 for a narrow class of offenses, which was then expanded in the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994. There are currently 62 federal prisoners on death row. But before Trump's presidency, only three federal prisoners had been executed since the federal death penalty had been reinstated.

All three of those executions took place under President George W. Bush. The most famous of the prisoners killed was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, executed in 2001. No other administration, Democratic or Republican, had executed any federal prisoners since 1963, under President John F. Kennedy.

Last year Barr announced that the Department of Justice and federal Bureau of Prisons were reestablishing protocols to resume executions and scheduled five men for death. Three died in July. In the course of a single week, the Trump administration doubled the number of people who had been executed by the federal government in modern times.

Should the administration follow through with Mitchell, it will set a modern record. It will have executed more federal death row inmates than any other administration since Dwight D. Eisenhower's.

Leaders of the Navajo Nation do not want Mitchell executed. The tribe opposes the use of the death penalty and has been asking since 2002 for the Department of Justice to respect its sovereignty. Mitchell's lawyers claim this is the first time the federal government has attempted to execute an inmate for a crime on tribal land over that tribe's objections. The National Congress of American Indians, a 70-year-old nonprofit advocacy group that lobbies for tribal nations on sovereignty issues, sent a letter to Trump on August 18 asking for him to grant Mitchell clemency. The Intercept's Liliana Segura reports that Marlene Slim, the daughter of Alyce and mother of Tiffany, objected to federal government seeking the death penalty against Mitchell, complaining in 2003 that her opposition was "ignored and dishonored." The child's father, however, does support Mitchell's execution.

Mitchell's lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to intervene, and they've sent a clemency request to Trump. Today Mitchell's lawyers filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to ask that the execution be delayed until such time Trump decides whether to grant clemency.

A fifth federal execution is scheduled for Friday—of Keith Dwayne Nelson, who was convicted of kidnapping, raping, and strangling a 10-year-old girl in 1999.

While Mitchell and his lawyers aren't claiming that he is innocent, a return to federal executions does mean an increasing likelihood that an innocent prisoner will be executed. The Death Penalty Information Center keeps track of cases where people on death row have subsequently been exonerated for their crimes. A scroll down the list shows that nearly every single year since 2000, at least one death row inmate has been exonerated and had his charges dismissed. There have been three exonerations in 2020 alone.

An execution can't be taken back. State-level executions have been on the decline since 2000. The number of death-row inmates that have been freed—170 since the 1970s—should inspire skepticism about the government's ability to limit its killings to the guilty.

NEXT: Republicans Still Have No Idea How To Talk About Health Care

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  1. “over the objections of the Navajo Nation to which he belongs”

    Ah yes, well that settles it.

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  2. So killing babies is OK, but executing those who murder, or rape and murder, children is bad?
    I disagree.

    And so does the US Constitution.
    ” . . . nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; . . . ”
    Therefore, with due process, the convicted may be deprived of life.

    1. We all want to see scum get their just deserts. Unfortunately, the government does a shitty job (when does it not) at determining who dies and for what. To a bystander it looks rather arbitrary. Dozens of killers get life or even less… why do we kill some? What about the ones who were scheduled to die and are exonerated before they do?

      1. The ones being executed aren’t fringe cases.

        1. What does that mean? Are you implying they’re all repeat offenders?

          I have no doubt a great many death row inmates deserve to die. The problem is I’m not sure which ones. And neither is the government.

          1. You could go look up the cases that have been executed this year. They are pretty much well documented, not based on hearsay, etc. The evidence is quite firm.

        2. Correct. They are mainline government executions. The question is whether government should ever be allowed to kill people.

          1. If you can lock up someone for life, there isn’t much of a difference.

            First you have to accept that the government does have a police power granted to it by the citizens. If you don’t, might as well claim to be an anarchist.

        3. The problem is that if you are OK with judicially killing this POS, then you must also accept people like Corey Maye also get death.

          1. I have to accept false dichotomies?

      2. We all want to see scum get their just deserts. Unfortunately, the government does a shitty job

        This is the problem with the death penalty in a nutshell. There are shitheads who deserve to be ripped apart by a mob, but I don’t trust judges, prosecutors and police to be fair, just and honest.

      3. Unfortunately, the government does a shitty job (when does it not) at determining who dies and for what.

        Indeed. Hitlery Clinton is still alive.

        I wonder how many people with an income of, oh, say, $500,000 a year (adjusted for inflation) have been executed in the history of the Country?

        As for those scheduled to die who are later found innocent – thorough reviews for prosecutorial misconduct should be carried out – and if any, the prosecutors should exchange places with the former prisoner for whatever time he was in prison.

    2. Trump has probably paid for more abortions than all the previous Presidents combined.

      1. As a New York Democrat he did donate a lot of money to Planned Parenthood.

      2. Does Clinton have a guy that does them for free?

        1. In Kennedy’s day you could get them done for the cost of a coathanger.

        2. Bill Clinton executed a man who was effectively retarded just to show how tough he was on crime. It was awful, evil, and disgusting–and it got him elected.

          1. “Mental Retardation” is often discovered among murderers… if not BEFORE the crime, then certainly as part of the defense.

            One need only recognize that the average IQ of African Americans is 14 points below average (86) to recognize that “mild retardation (84) need never be a defense to a murder charge.

            If it were, virtually every black murderer in the history of the world would have an argument why they shouldn’t be executed. (86 is actually rather high for blacks on a worldwide basis. See https://isgp-studies.com/miscellaneous/race-and-iq/global-iq-scores-black-white-asian-hispanic-arab-large.png )

      3. Seems unlikely.
        Kennedy.
        Clinton.

    3. Or we could choose to be less barbaric than we were before. Just how shitty do you want America to be compared to the rest of the civilized world?

      If you can’t figure out how to be against the death penalty, I’m a better libertarian than you, and if that’s not true, then libertarianism is nothing but warmed over Republican bullshit, and then what’s the point of you?

      1. How is the death penalty unlibertarian? We accept that people need to be killed in all kinds of circumstances and it isn’t a violation of the NAP, how is putting a murderer to death any different?

        I agree that it’s over-utilized and trusting the government to actually get it right is nearly impossible. But there are cases, like McVeigh, where there is absolutely no doubt about guilt and no remorse shown by the criminal. Why should we give people like that 3 hots and a cot? We know we’re never going to let him out, that we’re never going to be satisfied with their rehabilitation. Why not put him to death and use our limited resources for something more productive?

        I’m more mystified by people who are pro-choice but anti death penalty. A totally innocent fetus can be put to death with hardly a second thought, but a convicted murderer must be kept alive at all costs.

        1. How is the death penalty unlibertarian?

          Incarcerated people are not an immediate threat to the general population, so one could argue it is a violation of the NAP to kill a shackled man.

          1. Incarcerated people are not an immediate threat to the general population, so one could argue it is a violation of the NAP to kill a shackled man.

            Assuming they didn’t voluntarily walk into the jail cell, incacerating them is itself a violation of the NAP.

            1. If the incarceration is in response to an act of aggression, it’s retaliatory. Would we claim a (hypothetical) man using lethal force defending his person/property during a home invasion is violating the NAP?

          2. the problem is the incarcerated are not staying incarcerated. I would be fine with eliminating the death penalty if it meant life in prison which might be a worse punishment, however those calling for that are also calling to make life in prison not life in prison now and with this covid nonsense we have Newsom releasing killers already.

          3. They are often a threat to other incarcerated people. But fuck them?

          4. Incarcerated murderers are an immediate threat to other prisoners who committed lesser crimes, prison guards, other prison workers, a multitude of people in the justice system that have to deal with them during their many appeals, hearings, etc.

            The argument that government won’t always get it right, has a superficial appeal but we pursue medical treatments that have less than perfect success records, even the most legitimate wars cost innocent lives, and an estimated 1200 people die every year so we can go 15 miles an hour faster on the interstate. Not sure the rare cases of error are enough to offset the value of eliminating monsters.

            1. Yes they are enough. There is no value in “eliminating the monster” 20 years after the crime. You could argue for shorter waiting periods, but that would turn “rare cases of error” into very common occurence.

        2. There is no utility to killing prisoners. Even the worst people could better be studied. Blood vengeance is not a legitimate way to do justice in a civilized community. As has been argued ad nauseum, it’s no cheap thing to keep people on death row and in the appeals process.

          You can be pro-choice and anti-death penalty easily. All you have to do is care about what policy produces the best social outcomes. Women having autonomy over their bodies is one of the most important advances in human freedom in history. And I’m under no obligation to adopt the relatively novel and fringe concept that a fetus is a person with rights.

          1. And I’m under no obligation to adopt the relatively novel and fringe concept that a fetus is a person with rights.

            Lol Tony. Just when you start to say things that make sense, you have to ruin it with the last sentence.

            A fetus, for the uninitiated, is a human being.

            1. What’s a human being?

            2. Yes, but not a person, and definitely not with rights. In the past,opposition to abortion was about controlling women´s “morality” and enforcing procreation, not about fetal “rights”.

          2. Blood vengeance is not a legitimate way to do justice in a civilized community.

            Blood vengeance isn’t the only reason to kill someone, ask any abortive mother.

            And I’m under no obligation to adopt the relatively novel and fringe concept that a fetus is a person with rights.

            That you have rights and that people shouldn’t just murder you out of convenience is a relatively novel and fringe concept.

        3. How is the death penalty unlibertarian?

          I don’t trust the government with healthcare, business or social policy. I certainly can’t trust them not to railroad an innocent man.

          1. I’m with you on abortion though.

  3. I do not approve of this. At all. The government should not be in the business of killing people. I have no faith that the government is competent enough to actually determine guilt to a sufficient level to pursue this.

    1. For once we agree.

      1. I don’t. As far as I am concerned, we are not executing these worthless pieces of shit fast enough.

        These shitheads had their trial before a jury. They were found guilty, and sentenced to death. So execute them and move on.

  4. I’m for the total abolition of the death penalty. I expect the violent fringe left to eventually seize power and only if the government power to kill has been totally delegitimized is there any chance that said left won’t execute their enemies.

    1. If it has been totally delegitimized, the fascists will reinstate it; at least for political crimes like being an individual.

    2. Since when have they been consistent? Putting a murderer to death might be wrong, but putting a Republican to death is clearly OK.

    3. You would need a cathartic event – something on the order of the pacification of humanity seen in the novel Forever Peace – to delegitimize execution among the general populace. It’s in our DNA to kill our enemies. A rigorous application of thought is required to override that instinct.

      1. It’s in our DNA to kill our enemies.

        It’s arguably lower than that. Eliminating competition/threats certainly isn’t encoded into just one gene or set of genes that gets continually repeated throughout the animal kingdom.

  5. I’d rather we got rid of these endless, futile, pointless appeals in these cases. One hour after conviction, they should be getting shaved with the National Razor.

    The Navajo Nation doesn’t like it? Well, to quote the people who go insane whenever they see a Confederate flag: “We won. You lost. Sucks to be you!”

    1. On the other hand, to be sure, the damnyankees never pretended to reconcile with the confederacy like they did with the Indians. You know, reservations, tribal sovereignty and all that jazz.
      Just the infamy of “reconstruction”.

  6. Biggest non issue of the day. Let god sort em out.

    1. Barr is stepping on God’s toes.

  7. >>Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994

    so Biden’s fault. also no state should kill its people.

    1. also no state should kill its people.

      So, that’s a ‘Yes’ on executing the Navajo. Got it.

      1. many people failed to learn the lesson of Poltergeist

  8. I don’t have a problem with this and honestly I was surprised to find out that the feds had only executed six people since the death penalty was reinstated.

    1. I find it hard to be angry either way. Either the death penalty is legal or it is not. It’s clearly legal. I would prefer it otherwise, but it is.

      In that measure, we have clearly sentenced people to death. Yet, not one of 62 people has been executed in 10 years? That’s just negligence on the part of the government.

      If we aren’t going to do it, then we should actually make it illegal, not have activists overrule our legal processes and delay it indefinitely through legal fiction.

  9. So “set a modern record” equals being first in a race of two.

    Most people would call that headline ‘clickbait’. Sadly, I fell for it.

  10. The death penalty should be abolished.

    1. The state does enough killing as it is. No need to sanction the legal killing of an individual by the state.
    2. It corrupts the judicial system. The line between justice and revenge gets blurred when death is one of the options on the table.
    3. It corrupts politicians. The tendency is for them to demand that more and more crimes become eligible for the death penalty, to secure (re-)election and to prove their tough-on-crime bonafides. Can’t get tougher than that! Besides, which politician wants to be put in the position that some horrible person convicted of some horrible crime *shouldn’t* get the death penalty?
    4. It kills innocent people. This one is self-obvious, just go check out the Innocence Project.
    5. It’s cruel. There’s a bunch of different methods, of course, but the more “humane” method is lethal injection. Even still, it can still take over a minute to kill someone. Who knows what the person is going through in that one minute time span.
    6. It’s barbaric. For the most part, the nations that still use the death penalty are not ones that we would want to be associated with.
    7. It’s expensive. Yes most of the expense is in the form of legal appeals. But those appeals are necessary if the death penalty is to retain a veneer of an act of justice, rather than simply revenge, in order to make sure that the condemned was rightfully convicted or not. Having a “cheap” death penalty based on fewer appeals would only make the justice system worse, not better.
    8. It’s not even necessary. Life imprisonment protects society just the same, and ends up being about the same cost, if not less, than the death penalty considering all the appeals.

    1. You are right Jeff. But it’s so damn annoying knowing some portion of my taxes are used to house and feed a piece of shit that deserves the grave. Many such pieces of shit in fact.

      1. I would rather have my tax money being used to feed criminals than to have my tax money being used to kill innocent people in the name of ‘justice’.

    2. re: #5&6…
      do you have the same reservations about abortion? even if you dont think they are sentient in the same way a 1 or 2 year old is, the fetus obviously at certain points in development has capacity for experiencing pain. Add to that the accurate description of an abortion procedure and 5 and 6 should also inform your opinion of the abortion debate should it not?

    3. I will not try and disagree with your conclusion, as at the very least it’s ineffective and pointless.

      However, in this case, we need to actually pass the law. We cannot do this through activism and fantastic claims like claiming lethal injection is horrific torture. If we have 62 people on death row, and zero of them have been executed for 10 years, then death row is a legal fiction.

      Our government needs to do their job. If they don’t want to execute people, they need to actually change the law.

    4. chem…sorry dude, but you are just wrong. I personally do not care about reasons 1-8. They are irrelevant to the discussion, with the possible – emphasis on possible – exception of #4.

      The bottom line is these men are not innocent saints who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nope. By and large, they are gang members, or hardened criminals. The world is a better place without them.

      They were given due process, tried by the state, and found guilty by a jury of 12. Then a separate sentence on penalty. To me, the problem here is that we do not apply the death penalty swiftly enough. It wasn’t so long ago that the trial would occur, the sentence would be pronounced, and within an hour, the asshole would be swaying gently in the wind while people walked by and spat on them.

  11. Treaties. They’re for lesser presidents.

    Seriously, this isn’t about the death penalty, it’s about jurisdiction. And so long as we pretend that Indian Nations have their own criminal jurisdiction, the president doesn’t get to pick and choose who gets to be executed.

    Don’t like it? Abolish the BIA and the whole reservation system.

  12. About time they execute these animals.

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  14. All these criminals were tried and sentenced before Trump’s and even before Obama’s administrations. And even if they were sentenced during Bush 43’s time, presidents have no interaction with the judiciary until the moment when they’re asked to pardon, reduce sentence or allow the sentences to be carried out. They cannot have had any detailed knowledge and have no time to acquire it while busy with being president. It’s a political tactic and part of the democrat flimflam.

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  17. Never give the state the power of legal execution.

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