Arizona plans to execute first prisoner in nearly 8 years

An Arizona man convicted of the 1978 murder of a college student is set to become the first person to be executed in the state after a nearly eight-year hiatus in using the death penalty.

Clarence Dixon, 66, is scheduled to die by lethal injection Wednesday morning at Florence State Penitentiary after being convicted of the murder of 21-year-old Arizona State University student Deana Bowdoin. If the execution goes as planned, he will become the sixth inmate to be executed in the United States this year.

In recent weeks, Dixon’s lawyers have argued in court to postpone his execution, but judges have so far rejected his argument that he is mentally unfit to execute and that they have no reasonable understanding of why the state would want to execute him.

Dixon declined the option of being executed by gas chamber — a method not used in the United States for more than two decades — after Arizona renovated its gas chamber in late 2020. Instead, the state plans to have him executed with an injection of pentobarbital.

The state’s pause in executions was caused by an execution critics say was botched and the difficulty of finding lethal injectable drugs.

The last time Arizona used the death penalty was in July 2014, when Joseph Wood was administered 15 doses of a two-drug combination over two hours. Wood gasped more than 600 times before he died.

States, including Arizona, have struggled to buy execution drugs in recent years after US and European drug companies began blocking the use of their products in lethal injections.

Authorities said Bowdoin, who was found dead in her Tempe home, was raped, stabbed and strangled with a belt.

Dixon, who was an ASU student at the time and lived across from Bowdoin, had been charged with raping Bowdoin, but the charges were later dropped on the statute of limitations. However, he was convicted in her death.

Dixon’s lawyers argued their client was mentally challenged and said he mistakenly believed he was being executed because police at Northern Arizona University wrongly arrested him in a previous case — an assault on a 21-year-old student in the year 1985. His attorneys concede that he was lawfully arrested by Flagstaff police at the time.

Dixon was sentenced to life in prison on sexual assault and other convictions in that case. DNA samples taken during his detention later linked him to Bowdoin’s murder, which was unsolved at the time.

Prosecutors said nothing about Dixon’s convictions prevented him from understanding the reason for the execution, citing court filings that Dixon himself had filed over the years.

Defense attorneys said Dixon had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia multiple times, experienced hallucinations regularly for the past 30 years, and was found not guilty by reason of insanity in a 1977 assault case in which the verdict was rendered by then-Maricopa County Superior, Court Judge Sandra Day O’Connor, nearly four years before her nomination to the US Supreme Court. According to court records, Bowdoin was killed two days after the verdict.

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

Arizona has 113 prisoners on death row. Arizona plans to execute first prisoner in nearly 8 years

Bobby Allyn

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