FLORENCE, Arizona (AP) – An Arizona man convicted of murdering a college student in 1978 was executed Wednesday after a nearly eight-year hiatus in the state’s use of the death penalty that resulted from an execution that critics say is abortive — and the difficulty state officials have faced in Get the lethal injection drug.
Clarence Dixon, 66, died by lethal injection in Florence State Prison for the murder conviction of 21-year-old Arizona State University student Diana Bowdoin, making him the sixth person to be executed in the United States in 2022. Dixon’s death was announced late from Wednesday morning by Frank Strada, deputy director of the Arizona Department of Correction, Rehabilitation and Reentry.
Troy Hayden, the Fox 10 news anchor who witnessed the execution, said Dixon’s death appeared to go smoothly.
“Once the drugs started flowing, he fell asleep almost immediately,” Hayden said.
Hayden and other witnesses said that after the drug was injected, Dixon’s mouth remained open and his body did not move. The execution was declared complete about 10 minutes after it was injected.
Hayden said Dixon gave his last words after the injection, saying, “Maybe I’ll see you on the other side, Diana. I don’t know you, and I don’t remember.”
In the final weeks of Dixon’s life, his lawyers attempted to delay the execution, but the judges rejected the argument that he was not mentally fit to be executed and had no rational understanding of why the state wanted him to be executed. The US Supreme Court refused to postpone Dixon’s execution at the last minute, less than an hour before the execution began.
Dixon earlier rejected the option to kill in a gas chamber in Arizona that was renovated in 2020 — a method that had not been used in the United States in more than two decades.
Shortly before his execution with pentobarbital, Strada said Dixon had declared, “The Arizona Supreme Court must follow the laws. They have rejected my appeal and my petitions to change the outcome of this trial. I do and will always proclaim innocence. Now, let’s do this (expletive).”
And when the prison medical staff put an IV in Dixon’s thigh in preparation for the injection, he scolded them, saying, “That’s really funny — you’re trying to be as precise as possible while you’re trying to kill me.”
Leslie James, Bowdoin’s older sister and witness to the execution, told reporters after her procedure that Diana Bowdoin was about to graduate from Arizona State University and was planning a career in international marketing. James described her sister as a hardworking worker who loves to travel, speaks multiple languages and writes poetry.
She called the execution a relief but criticized how long it took to happen: “This process was a road and a road and a long road,” James said. He had been on death row since his conviction in 2008.
The last time an Arizona prisoner was executed was in July 2014, when Joseph Wood was given 15 doses of a combination of two drugs over two hours in an execution his lawyers said was a fiasco. The wood was gnawed repeatedly and gasped more than 600 times before he died.
States, including Arizona, have struggled to purchase execution drugs in recent years after US and European drug companies began to ban their products from being used in lethal injections.
Authorities said Bowdoin, who was found dead in her apartment in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, was raped, stabbed and strangled with a belt.
Dixon, who lived across the street from Bowdoin, was charged with raping Bowdoin, but the rape charge was later dropped on the grounds of a statute of limitations. He was convicted of murder in her murder.
His attorneys, in arguing that Dixon was mentally unfit, said he mistakenly believed he was going to be executed because police at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff wrongly arrested him in another case — the 1985 attack on a 21-year-old student. His lawyers admitted that he was legally arrested by Flagstaff Police.
Dixon was sentenced to life in prison in that case for sexual assault and other convictions. DNA samples taken while in prison were later linked to Bowdoin’s death, which has yet to be resolved.
Prosecutors said there was nothing in Dixon’s beliefs that would prevent him from understanding the reason for the execution and pointed to court files that Dixon himself had filed over the years.
Defense attorneys said Dixon was repeatedly diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, had hallucinations regularly for the past 30 years, and was found “not guilty by reason of insanity” in a 1977 assault case, sentencing by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sandra . Day O’Connor, nearly four years before her appointment to the US Supreme Court. Bowdoin was killed two days after that sentence, according to court records.
Another Arizona prisoner, Frank Atwood, is scheduled to be executed on June 8 in the 1984 murder of 8-year-old Vicki Lynn Hoskinson. Authorities said Atwood kidnapped the girl.
The girl’s remains were discovered in the desert northwest of Tucson nearly seven months after her disappearance. According to court records, experts were unable to determine the cause of death from the bones found.
Arizona now has 112 inmates on death row.
Reported by Billiod from Phoenix. Associated Press writer Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.