Arizona prisoner psychologically fit for execution

PHOENIX – A judge has ruled that an Arizona prisoner convicted of murdering a college student in 1978 is mentally fit to be put to death next week, keeping the focus on what would be the first execution in the State in almost eight years.

In a ruling signed shortly before midnight Tuesday and released Wednesday, Pinal County Superior Court Judge Robert Olson rejected an argument by defense attorneys that Clarence Dixon’s psychological issues prevent him from rationally understanding why the state wants to end his life.

Dixon was convicted of murder in the murder of 21-year-old Arizona State University student Deana Bowdoin.

Dixon’s attorneys said they would appeal the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court.

Although Olson concluded that Dixon suffered from schizophrenia, the judge said Dixon was rational and understood the procedure in his case well enough to show he was competent.

Lawyers for Dixon argued in court in Florence, Ariz., on Tuesday that his execution would violate protections against the execution of mentally unfit people.

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They said he mistakenly believed he would be executed because Northern Arizona University police wrongfully arrested him in a previous case – a 1985 attack on a 21-year-old student. His attorneys admit he was in fact legally arrested at the time by Flagstaff police.

Olson dismissed this argument, saying that on the one hand it’s “an elegant theory that could make all his legal problems go away; on the other hand, the chances of success of this argument were highly improbable (if not non-existent)…” but that Dixon stuck to it.

One of Dixon’s attorneys, Eric Zuckerman, said in a statement that the judge relied on expert testimony he called discredited and unqualified to come to the conclusion that Dixon was competent. He called it “deeply alarming”.

“We will ask the Arizona Supreme Court to apply the correct standard and ensure that Mr. Dixon is not executed while mentally incompetent, in violation of the Eighth Amendment,” Zuckerman said.

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Dixon received life sentences in that case for sexual assault and other convictions. DNA samples taken while he was in prison later linked him to the Bowdoin murder, which at that time had not been solved.

Prosecutors, who unsuccessfully tried to get the Arizona Supreme Court to quash the mental capacity hearing, said nothing about Dixon’s beliefs prevented him from understanding the reason for the execution and pointed to court documents that Dixon himself had filed over the years.

Defense attorneys said Dixon had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia on multiple occasions, hallucinated regularly over the past 30 years and was found ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ in an assault case by 1977 in which the verdict was rendered by Maricopa County. Superior Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, nearly four years before her nomination to the United States Supreme Court. Bowdoin was killed two days after the verdict, according to court records.

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Authorities said Bowdoin, who was found dead in her apartment, was raped, stabbed and strangled. Dixon had been charged with raping Bowdoin, but the charge was later dropped due to statute of limitations. He was, however, found guilty of her death.

In addition to challenging his mental fitness, Dixon’s lawyers made another attempt on Tuesday to prevent his execution.

They filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to stay the killing of Dixon until corrections officials show that the compound pentobarbital to be used for the execution has been given an expiration date.

About a year ago, prosecutors moved to seek the execution of Dixon and another death row inmate, but the litigation was stayed by the state Supreme Court over concerns about the date expiry date of the drug to be used in lethal injections. .

In the new lawsuit, attorneys for Dixon said corrections officials gave them heavily redacted records documenting testing for the drug, but did not provide the assigned expiration date.

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The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Rehabilitation declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday also issued a warrant setting June 8 as the execution date for another death row inmate, Frank Atwood, for the 1984 murder of 8-year-old Vicki Lynn Hoskinson. Authorities claim that Atwood kidnapped the girl, whose body was found in the desert northwest of Tucson.

The last time Arizona used the death penalty was in July 2014, when Joseph Wood was given 15 doses of a combination of two drugs over two hours in an execution that his attorneys say was been botched.

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

Arizona has 113 prisoners on death row.


Associated Press writers Bob Christie and Paul Davenport contributed to this report.

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Associated Press writer Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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