Waiting to die: Lezmond Mitchell

News 10's Sarah Lehman served as a media witness to Lezmond Mitchell's federal execution.

Posted: Aug 26, 2020 10:52 PM
Updated: Aug 27, 2020 10:13 AM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind, (WTHI) -- Lezmond Mitchell was executed by lethal injection on August, 26th. Mitchell was the only Native American on death row. He was pronounced dead at 6:29 p.m.

This was the fourth federal execution to take place in Terre Haute this year. Mitchell has been on death row for more than a decade. He was found guilty in May of 2003 of numerous offenses. Including first degree murder, felony murder, and carjacking resulting in murder.

This undated family photo provided by Auska Mitchell shows Lezmond Mitchell, who is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Ind., for the 2001 killing of Alyce Slim and her granddaughter. The Nav

A jury convicted Mitchell of killing 63-year-old Alyce Slim and her 9-year-old granddaughter Tiffany. In September of 2003, he was sentenced to death.

I served as a media witness to Mitchell's execution. Mitchell's execution was set for 6 pm eastern standard time. I showed up at the federal prison's media center just before 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. That's where, like in executions past, my temperature was checked and I was asked if I had any COVID-19 symptoms.

LINK | LEZMOND MITCHELL BECOMES THE FOURTH FEDERAL INMATE EXECUTED IN TERRE HAUTE THIS SUMMER

By 5 p.m. all 7 journalists filed into two white vans to be taken to the United States Penitentiary. That's where we were screened by security. Similar to airport security, we put our belongings in gray totes that were sent through an x-ray scanner. While we went through a metal detector and full-body scan. Everyone was wearing a facemask the entire time.

After I passed through security I went back into a different white van and was driven toward the death chambers. At this point, it was a little after 5 p.m.

With the building just insight, both vans stopped and were put into park. I sat in the back of the van watching cars drive into the prison and watched the shadows change as the sun started to set. I watched the hands on my watch as it ticked closer to 6 p.m. thinking the execution would not happen on time.

Then, just after 6 p.m. media witnesses were filed into the building.

The building is divided into rooms. Seven media witnesses, including myself, with four prison employees, were in one room. The family of Mitchell's victims were in another room. One more room sat empty because there were no witnesses for the inmate.

One minute barely passed before the blinds in front of me were drawn up and in a green-tiled room, strapped to a gurney with a blue sheet pulled up to his neck laid Mitchell. The only other people in the room with him were two federal employees.

In his last moments, he was asked if he wanted to say any final words. Mitchell simply responded, "No, I'm good." After that, a second man picked up a phone on the wall. He asked if there were any impediments to the execution. When it was reported there was nothing to stop the execution, the lethal injection was started at around 6:05.

At this time Mitchell's fingers twitched and lightly grabbed the gurney arms he was strapped to. It took only a few seconds for the poison to be pushed into his veins and for witnesses to start seeing those effects.

The next thing I noticed was his breathing. What started out as very deep breaths changed to rapid shallow ones. His breath then started to come farther apart until he stopped breathing altogether.

I saw his fingers twitch one last time and then the tips of his fingers turned blue.

The room fell silent and everyone kept an eye on the clock waiting for the time of death to be announced.

A man with a stethoscope came into the room. Checked his pulse and heartbeat, gave a slight nod to one of the men in the room.

"Death has occurred" one man announced over the speaker at 6:29 p.m. it was followed by"That concludes the execution of inmate Mitchell" 

The blinds in the green room were lowered and I was quickly shuffled back into the white vans. In all. I was in the death chambers for less than 30 minutes.

Mitchell never lifted his head to look at or for anyone. I never saw his face. Strapped to the gurney, he stared at the ceiling tiles the entire time.

After the execution, Daniel Lee, the father of the 9-year-old who Mitchell killed and Lee's attorney gave a statement to the press.

Lee's attorney read his statement. As we could hear sniffles and see Lee wiping his eyes through the entire thing. 

It said: 

"I have waited nineteen years to get justice for my daughter, Tiffany. I will never get Tiffany back, but I hope this will bring some closure.

It is through my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that I am here to witness this today. I have received messages of prayer from across the country. To those who have been praying for me during this process, thank you.

I would like to thank those who investigated her murder, prosecuted this case, and ensured that justice was done.

This includes:

  • the Navajo Nation Police Department,
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation, and
  • the United States Attorney's Office

I am grateful for the work of the US Attorney's Office of the last few weeks, days, and hours leading up to this moment.

I would also like to thank:

  • Attorney General William Bar, and
  • President Donald Trump

for their pursuit of justice for Tiffany. Had it not been for the Trump administration, I do not think I would have ever received justice or a sense of finality.

I request that you respect my privacy during this difficult time and allow me the opportunity to try to move forward."

We also received a statement from Mitchell's attorneys. 

It read: 

“Today, the federal government added another chapter to its long history of injustices against Native American people. Over the steadfast objection of the Navajo Nation, and despite urgent pleas for clemency from Navajo leaders and many other Native American tribes, organizations, and citizens, the Trump Administration executed Lezmond Mitchell, a Navajo man, for a crime against other Navajo people committed on Navajo land.

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 the possibility of release. 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.

“Mr. Mitchell’s execution came after the Supreme Court refused to allow him to interview his jurors – 11 white people and a single Navajo – about whether racial bias influenced their decision. Yet we have little doubt that it did because, in their zealous pursuit of a death sentence for Mr. Mitchell, the federal prosecutors made arguments laced with anti-Indian stereotypes.

“We have been honored to meet and work with members of the Navajo Nation and many other Native American people who sought to halt Lezmond Mitchell’s execution. We hope that the future will bring greater respect for the sovereignty of Indian nations and for the traditions of their people.”

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