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Only Native American on federal death row is executed

Native American on death row executed

The only Native American on federal death row was put to death Wednesday, despite objections from many Navajo leaders who had urged President Trump to halt the execution on the grounds it would violate tribal culture and sovereignty.

With the execution of Lezmond Mitchell for the grisly slayings of a 9-year-old and her grandmother, the federal government under the pro-death-penalty president has now carried out more executions in 2020 than it had in the previous 56 years combined.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons confirmed Mitchell was pronounced dead at 6:29 p.m. after receiving a lethal injection of pentobarbital at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

Mitchell, who was 38 at the time of execution, and an accomplice were convicted of killing Tiffany Lee and 63-year-old Alyce Slim after the grandmother offered them a lift as they hitchhiked on the Navajo Nation in 2001. They stabbed Slim 33 times, slit Tiffany’s throat and stoned her to death. They later mutilated both bodies.

Tribal leaders’ bid to persuade Trump to commute Mitchell’s sentence to life in prison failed, as did last-minute appeals by his lawyers for a stay. The first three federal executions in 17 years went ahead in July after similar legal maneuvers failed. Keith Nelson, who was also convicted of killing a child, is slated to die Friday.

— Associated Press

Evacuations lifted near fires; some go home

Thousands of people in California returned home Wednesday as cooler weather and an influx of aid helped firefighters gain ground and lift evacuation orders prompted by some of the largest wildfires in state history.

Highlighting the unusually early fire season in the state accustomed to blazes, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said more than 2,000 square miles have already burned this year.

In the heart of wine country, evacuation orders in Napa and Sonoma counties were lifted for about 35,000 people who had been told to leave after lightning ignited dozens of blazes last week.

More people could be allowed to return home in the next two days in Sonoma and Solano counties, said Sean Kavanaugh, a chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

A fire in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties south of San Francisco was 19 percent contained, but officials increased the number of buildings destroyed to more than 530. Santa Cruz County officials reported that a woman who hadn’t been heard from since Monday was found dead at home, apparently of natural causes. They also were looking for an evacuee missing since he told a friend he wanted to sneak back into a fire area.

— Associated Press

Judge: Feds can be sued over Flint crisis

The federal government can be sued for negligence in the Flint water crisis, a judge said Wednesday, citing the failure of regulators to timely act as good Samaritans and blow the whistle on lead in the water supply.

The decision comes days after the state of Michigan said it’s willing to pay $600 million to settle a raft of lawsuits by Flint residents over disastrous decisions by former governor Rick Snyder’s administration.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency didn’t cause Flint’s water to be contaminated with lead, but it knew about high lead levels and didn’t crack down in time, U.S. District Judge Judith Levy said in an 86-page opinion.

Starting in April 2014, Flint pulled water from the Flint River for 18 months without treating it to reduce corrosion. The water caused lead to be released from old pipes and into kitchen taps, bathrooms and water heaters.

The government said Michigan was the lead regulator and bears any responsibility, among other arguments.

But the judge noted that the EPA responded to complaints about the water and provided expertise to the state and Flint.

“The EPA knew as early as June 2015 that Flint residents were in danger of drinking and being exposed to lead contaminated water,” Levy said.

— Associated Press

Lennon's killer denied parole for 11th time: The man who gunned down John Lennon outside his Manhattan apartment in 1980 was denied parole for an 11th time, New York corrections officials said Wednesday. Mark David Chapman was denied after being interviewed by a parole board Aug. 19. Chapman, 65, is serving a 20-years-to-life sentence at Wende Correctional Facility, east of Buffalo. He shot and killed the former Beatle on Dec. 8, 1980, hours after Lennon autographed an album for him. He has said previously that he feels "more and more shame" every year for the crime. Chapman's next parole hearing is scheduled for August 2022.

— Associated Press