The U.S. Department of Justice has scheduled two executions for September at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, home to the federal penal system’s death row and its only working death chamber.
William Emmett LeCroy is to be executed Sept. 22, and Christopher Andre Vialva is to be executed Sept. 24
LeCroy raped and murdered Joann Lee Tiesler, a 30-year-old nurse, in 2001, according to a Justice Department news release. In March 2004, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia found LeCroy guilty of carjacking resulting in death and unanimously recommended a sentence of death. His conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal, and his requests for collateral relief were rejected.
Vialva murdered youth ministers Todd and Stacie Bagley in 1999. In June 2000, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas found Vialva guilty of, among other offenses, two counts of murder within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States and unanimously recommended two death sentences. His convictions and sentences were affirmed on appeal, and his requests for collateral relief were rejected.
These will come after three executions by lethal injection were carried out in July, and two more that are set for August.
Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced the execution of Lezmond Mitchell has been set for Aug. 26.
In October 2001, Mitchell killed a 63-year-old grandmother, and her 9-year-old granddaughter as part of a carjacking in Arizona.
Mitchell is the only Native American on federal death row. Mitchell, who is Navajo, was among the first of a handful of inmates scheduled to be executed after the Trump administration last fall restored federal executions after a 17-year moratorium.
Mitchell has been spared temporarily by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where his attorneys argued they should be able to interview jurors for potential racial bias. Mitchell lost the bid in late April, but the case hasn’t technically been closed, preserving a stay of execution.
His attorneys have asked the appeals court to essentially keep the stay in place while they seek review at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mitchell and an accomplice abducted Alyce Slim and her granddaughter, Tiffany Lee, in October 2001 with plans 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 Navajo Nation.
Despite they nature of the killings, tribal officials and even the victims’ family opposed the death penalty. Native American tribes for decades have been able to tell federal prosecutors if they want a death sentence considered for certain crimes on their land. Nearly all, including the Navajo Nation, have rejected that option.
Mitchell was convicted of carjacking resulting in death — a crime that carries a possible death sentence no matter where it happens, meaning the tribe had no avenue to object.
“The federal government’s announcement that it now plans to execute Lezmond Mitchell demonstrates the ultimate disrespect for the Navajo Nation’s values and sovereignty,” his attorneys, Jonathan Aminoff and Celeste Bacchi said in a statement this week.
Mitchell is scheduled to be put to death in the same week as Keith Dwayne Nelson, who was convicted of kidnapping a 10-year-old girl while she was rollerblading in front of her Kansas home and raping her in a forest behind a church, then strangling her. Nelson’s execution is scheduled for Aug. 28.
Three other federal inmates were put to death earlier this month in Terre Haute — Dustin Honken, Wesley Purkey and Daniel Lewis Lee. All were convicted of killing children.
Opponents of capital punishment argue the administration of President Donald Trump is rapidly executing federal death row inmates after the long hiatus in order to bolster Trump’s re-election effort.
“The reason President Trump has scheduled these executions are his ego and his re-election campaign, not to advance justice or help victims,” said Abraham Bonowitz, director of Death Penalty Action, in a news release Friday evening.
“President Trump’s adminstration is completely ignoring murder victims’ families, who do not want their loved ones’ memories sullied by an execution,” Bonowitz said. “These prisoners and the families of the victims mean nothing to him. He just wants to be able to say he has executed more people than any president in well over half a century.”
— Felicia Fonseca wrote for the Associated Press. Mark Fitton contributed for the Tribune-Star.