Lezmond Mitchell is a Navajo man convicted in U.S. courts of several murders. The evidence appears solid and there doesn't seem to be any dispute over whether he is guilty, nor does there seem to be anybody who believes he received an inappropriate sentence in the court that sentenced him. But there is a significant problem with the case.
Mr Mitchell was a Navajo, living on Navajo land, who killed Navajo residents to steal Navajo property.
Navajo people obviously do not have the military force to impose their legal sovereignty, so they are forced to defer to those who have more physical power over their land than they have.
The tribe does have a legal infrastructure capable of handling the crime, basically an underfunded cookie cutter version of the U.S. system, but specially designed to fail.
In this case, an extreme murder in which all aspects pertain to the Navajos, the tribe specified explicitly that killing prisoners i.e., the death penalty, was not part of their system and was not acceptable.
The U.S. court used a technicality involving a U.S. law regarding carjacking, along with the basic fact of the overwhelming military superiority of the United States, to ignore the wishes of the tribe.
The Navajo, like all surviving Native tribes, act and exist at the mercy of the more powerful group that colonized the region.
This is just one example of how the slow steady assimilation of surviving tribes is forced.
When things finally fall apart in one part of the sabotaged society, the residents are offered a little more help in exchange for a little more surrender.
In this case the death penalty was clearly imposed as an opportunistic way to intimidate Navajos. The government is saying in a loud voice "We, the federal government, will protect you better than your government. Of course we accidentally convict some people, but you can verify the evidence in this case." The subtext is "We have power. Your tribal authorities do not."
Navajo Anthropologists and experts within an array of social sciences could easily restore a basic functional society that was closer to tradition, and sustainable, and the dollar cost would be a fraction of the cost of the current long term sabotage strategy.
But that would cost the U.S. actual territory, the fictionally sovereign reservations can currently be reclaimed by hook or by crook with the stroke of a pen for any number of financial, 'national security' or other excuses, which are just a matter of time.
In places where indigenous societies, or their remnants, meet a conquering society, the 'law' is used mainly to subjugate the conquered and force obedience to the conquering society.
Here is an example of a Native who, highly intoxicated, tried to stab a cop who came into his house for a domestic violence call.
The media tries to portray the cop as having been more injured than he was, and the guilty person as having a motive that he did not have.
The article says he bent the knife while giving the officer a laceration. Obviously the knife was not bent during the incident. The police are trying to promote themselves to natives as supermen, suggesting "If a Native tries to stab a cop the knife will bend, the cop will survive, and the Native will go to prison for decades". Is the Native guy going to protest? Most Natives have little protest left in them.
If a drunk cop were to stab a Native person with much worse motive, in that area, the police would hesitate to arrest the cop, and then if the cop were arrested the judge would minimize it as a drunken accident. The Native victim would then be coerced into accepting that.
Should the guy be in jail? His history clearly shows what most people would call ptsd and other mental illness, plus the fact that drunks can be annoying, so something should be done, but it should be fair.
In that same town some years ago a cop kidnapped, raped and murdered a Native girl.
1) That cop had been stalking her, including at her place of work.
2) She was last seen getting 'arrested' and getting into that cop's car.
3) Even though a number of people knew what had happened, the police would not arrest one of their own and the local Native population was too intimidated to act.
4) Finally the police were forced to act. They concocted an investigation and pretended to be surprised at who the killer was.
5) Once media attention hit, the authorities did damage control, including naming a law after the victim and pretending they hadn't wanted to hire that cop in the first place.
The lengthy sentence given to the drunk guy who stabbed a cop is about showing who is boss and discouraging Natives from getting any ideas about questioning their status. The Lezmond Mitchell case is the same.