Navajo Nation citizen faces death penalty for murder of tribal officer

Houston James Largo was laid to rest in New Mexico on March 16, 2017. Photo: Navajo Nation OPVP Russell Begaye And Jonathan Nez

A citizen of the Navajo Nation who is accused of murdering a tribal police officer could be put to death for his alleged crimes.

Kirby Cleveland, 32, has been indicted on a total of eight counts related to the murder of officer Houston James Largo, 27. As many as four of the charges carry a potential death sentence, according to KRQE.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the head of the Department of Justice, will determine whether to seek capital punishment if Cleveland is convicted of the most serious charges, The Associated Press reported.

Historically, Navajo leaders and citizens have opposed the use of the death penalty. But, over the years, positions have shifted in favor of capital punishment in certain cases.

The 2016 murder of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike, for example, has some Navajo citizens calling on the tribe to support the death penalty.

Federal law recognizes a tribe's authority to accept the death penalty for certain crimes committed on their lands. The Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma is so far the lone tribe to utilize the so-called "opt in" provision found in 18 U.S. Code § 3598.

But there are instances in which a tribe has no say in the matter. Federal prosecutors in Arizona secured a death sentence against Navajo citizen Lezmond Mitchell because one of his crimes was not linked to the tribal provision.

Cleveland pleaded not guilty to the charges during an appearance in federal court in New Mexico on Thursday, according to news reports. He is accused of murdering Largo on March 11.

Read More on the Story:
Man pleads not guilty in shooting death of Navajo officer (AP 4/20)
Man charged with killing Navajo Nation officer pleads not guilty (KRQE 4/20)

Related Stories:
Murder charge filed for fatal shooting of Navajo Nation police officer (03/22)
Navajo Nation pays tribute to slain officer with suspect in custody (3/17)
Navajo Nation mourning loss of police officer killed in line of duty (3/13)