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First execution in Arizona since 2014 scheduled for man who killed ASU student

Clarence Dixon, who was convicted 20 years ago of the long-time cold case murder of an ASU student, is set to be put to death on May 11.
Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 5:06 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/AP) -- The first execution in Arizona in eight years is now scheduled after the Arizona Supreme Court issued an execution warrant on Tuesday afternoon, state prosecutors said. Clarence Dixon, who was convicted 20 years ago of the long-time cold case murder of an ASU student, is set to be put to death on May 11.

Arizona has its first execution scheduled since 2014 but there's controversy surrounding the drugs used in putting inmates to death.

This will be the first execution in Arizona since 2014, when Joseph Rudolph Wood III was executed at Florence State Prison. Wood was convicted of shooting his estranged girlfriend and her father in 1989. He was given 15 doses of a two-drug combination over two hours and his lawyers have referred to it as a “botched” execution since it appeared he gasped for air and convulsed during the last 25 minutes.

Earlier this year, state prosecutors said they hoped to get execution warrants for Dixon and Frank Atwood. On Jan. 7, 1978, Deana Bowdoin, a 21-year-old ASU student, was raped, strangled, and stabbed to death in her Tempe apartment. The case went cold until 20 years later when a Tempe detective re-opened Bowdoin’s case. Using DNA profiling, detectives were able to pinpoint Dixon as the suspect, who was already serving a life sentence for a 1986 sexual assault conviction. In 2002, Dixon was indicted for Bowdoin’s murder, and a jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death.

Dixon has 20 days to decide whether to be injected with a lethal drug or be executed by the gas chamber. If he doesn’t make a choice, the lethal injection will serve as the default method of execution. Arizona, where the nation’s last lethal-gas execution was carried out more than two decades ago before the United States rejected the brutal nature of the deaths, refurbished its gas chamber in late 2020.

Corrections officials have declined to say why they are restarting the gas chamber. However, the move comes as states find it increasingly difficult to secure lethal injection drugs as manufacturers refuse to supply them.

“I made a promise to Arizona voters that people who commit the ultimate crime get the ultimate punishment,” said Brnovich said in a statement. “I will continue to fight every day for justice for victims, their families, and our communities.”

Jennifer Moreno, one of Dixon’s attorneys, said in a statement that Arizona has a problematic history in carrying out the death penalty. “The state has had nearly a year to demonstrate that it will not be carrying out executions with expired drugs but has failed to do so,” Moreno said. “Under these circumstances, the execution of Mr. Dixon — a severely mentally ill, visually disabled, and physically frail member of the Navajo Nation — is unconscionable.”

States including Arizona had struggled to buy execution drugs in recent years after U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products in lethal injections. Last year, Arizona corrections officials revealed that they had finally obtained a lethal injection drug and were ready to resume executions.

More than 100 inmates in Arizona are on death row, and 20 have exhausted all their appeals, according to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. Most death row crimes date back to the 1970s and early 80s.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to show the scheduled execution date is May 11, not May 10 as previously reported.