Arizona executes Clarence Dixon, the 1st prisoner in nearly 8 years

Clarence Dixon was put to death on Wednesday morning, Arizona's first execution in nearly eight years.
Published: May. 11, 2022 at 8:34 AM MST|Updated: May. 11, 2022 at 12:46 PM MST
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FLORENCE, AZ (AP/3TV/CBS 5) -- An Arizona man convicted of killing a college student in 1978 was the first person to be executed in the state after a nearly eight-year hiatus in its use of the death penalty.

Clarence Dixon, 66, died by lethal injection Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. at the state prison in Florence for his murder conviction in the killing of 21-year-old Arizona State University student Deana Bowdoin. He was the sixth person executed in the United States in 2022. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-minute delay of Dixon’s execution less than an hour before he was killed. Early Wednesday, prison officials confirmed his final meal request was Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), a half-pint of strawberry ice cream, and a bottle of water. Dixon’s death was announced late Wednesday morning by Frank Strada, a deputy director with the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.

In recent weeks, Dixon’s lawyers have made arguments to the courts to postpone his execution, but judges had so far rejected his argument that he is mentally unfit to be executed and had no rational understanding of why the state wanted to put him to death. Late Tuesday night, Dixon’s lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review lower-court decisions that denied his request to postpone the execution. But by Wednesday morning, he had exhausted all legal options and the execution went on as planned.

The sister of an ASU student killed by Clarence Dixon in 1978 believes he should have been executed much earlier.

“Prosecutors have a solemn responsibility to speak on behalf of all victims, and especially for those who can no longer speak for themselves,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “My focus was on securing justice for Deana Bowdoin, her family, and our communities, and that has been achieved today.”

The state’s hiatus in executions was driven by an execution that critics say was botched and the difficulty of finding lethal injection drugs. The last time Arizona had used the death penalty was in July 2014, when Joseph Wood was given 15 doses of a two-drug combination over two hours. Wood gasped more than 600 times before he died.

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.

Authorities have said Bowdoin, who was found dead in her apartment in Tempe, had been raped, stabbed, and strangled with a belt.

Dixon, who was an ASU student at the time and lived across the street from Bowdoin, had been charged with raping Bowdoin, but the charge was later dropped on statute-of-limitation grounds. He was convicted, though, in her death.

In arguing their client was mentally unfit, Dixon’s lawyers have said he erroneously believes he will be executed because the police at Northern Arizona University wrongfully arrested him in another case — a 1985 attack on a 21-year-old student. His attorneys concede he was in fact lawfully arrested then by Flagstaff police.

Dixon was sentenced to life sentences in that case for sexual assault and other convictions. DNA samples were taken while he was in prison and later linked him to Bowdoin’s killing, which at that point had been unsolved.

Prosecutors said there was nothing about Dixon’s beliefs that prevents him from understanding the reason for the execution and pointed to court filings that Dixon himself made over the years.

Defense lawyers have said Dixon has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia on multiple occasions, has regularly experienced hallucinations over the past 30 years and was found not guilty by reason of insanity in a 1977 assault case in which the verdict was delivered by then-Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sandra Day O’Connor, nearly four years before her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bowdoin was killed two days after the verdict, according to court records.

Another Arizona death row prisoner, Frank Atwood, is scheduled to be executed on June 8 for the killing of 8-year-old Vicki Lynne Hoskinson in 1984. Authorities say Atwood kidnapped the girl, whose body was found in the desert northwest of Tucson.

Arizona now has prisoners on death row. According to the Attorney General’s Office, 23 have exhausted all their appeals and many of their crimes go back to the 1970s and early 1980s.

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