Clarence Dixon was convicted and sentenced to death in 2002 for the 1978 rape and murder of 21-year-old Deana Bowdoin, an Arizona State University student. File Photo courtesy of the Arizona attorney general’s office
April 19 (UPI) — An Arizona judge on Tuesday ruled against a death row prisoner who challenged the makeup of the state’s clemency board, saying it wouldn’t give him fair consideration because it includes too many former law enforcement officers.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Stephen Hopkins said “law enforcement” isn’t considered a profession under a statute that prevents more than two people from the same profession from serving on the board.
Clarence Dixon’s attorneys challenged the makeup of the board in a court filing last week.
Dixon, 66, is scheduled to be executed May 11 for the 1978 rape and murder of 21-year-old Deana Bowdoin, an Arizona State University student.
Joshua Spears, Dixon’s attorney, said the defense team is reviewing its options for appeal.
“Clarence Dixon is a person with serious mental illness as well as blindness and other severe physical disabilities, and his case presents many important factors relevant to a clemency determination,” Spears said.
“He is scheduled to be the first person executed in Arizona in eight years, which means that the clemency board as presently constituted has never considered a capital clemency request. Mr. Dixon is entitled to a fair clemency hearing before an impartial clemency board that complies fully with state law, not one that is illegally stacked with law enforcement officials. We are reviewing our options to appeal the superior court’s ruling.”
Three of the five members currently on the board previously served as law enforcement officers. According to the board’s website, Sal Freni served with the Phoenix Police Department for 30 years, Louis Quinonez was a federal law enforcement officer for 27 years and Michael Johnson worked on the PPD for 21 years.
There is currently one vacancy and the other two members — Mina Mendez and Frank Riggs — are a former lawyer, and former businessman and U.S. congressman, respectively.
Dixon’s lawyers also filed a motion in court earlier this month saying their client wasn’t mentally competent enough to be executed. They said his execution would violate the 8th Amendment, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment, because he has a “well-documented history” of paranoid schizophrenia.
They said two court-appointed psychiatrists found Dixon to be incompetent as part of an unrelated assault case. Then-Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sandra Day O’Connor found Dixon not guilty by reason of insanity in that case.
They said delusions caused by the mental illness keep him from having a rational understanding of his punishment.
The motion challenges Arizona’s competency statute, which Dixon’s attorneys say is in conflict with the federal constitutional standard.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich last week objected to a mental competency hearing scheduled for May 3, saying it would likely delay the May 11 execution.
Arizona officials announced plans to set Dixon’s execution date in April 2021. At the time, his lawyer, Dale Baich, said his client experienced “chronic neglect” as a child and has had mental illness for decades. He said the murder case rested “almost entirely” on DNA evidence and that other evidence was inconclusive or excluded Dixon.
Arizona last carried out an execution on July, 23, 2014, that of Joseph Wood. It took 15 doses of a new combination of drugs — midazolam and hydromorphone — and 2 hours for Wood to die.
He was the second inmate to be given the two-drug cocktail after Arizona lost its European supplier of pentobarbital. The European Union voted in 2011 to prohibit the sale of the drug to the United States because of its use in executions.
After Wood’s death, the state decided to no longer use the midazolam and hydromorphone combination of drugs, effectively implementing a moratorium on executions until an alternate drug cocktail could be legally secured.