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Arizona seeks death warrants for 2 inmates after 7-year execution hiatus

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Arizona seeks death warrants for 2 inmates after 7-year execution hiatus
Frank Atwood was sentenced to death for the 1984 kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Vicki Hoskinson in Tucson. File Photo courtesy of the Arizona attorney general's office

April 6 (UPI) -- Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich on Tuesday announced his intent to seek execution dates for two men after a seven-year hiatus of lethal injections in the state.

He said he notified the Arizona Supreme Court of his plan to seek execution warrants for Frank Atwood and Clarence Dixon and asked the court to set a schedule to oversee the process.

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"Capital punishment is the law in Arizona and the appropriate response to those who commit the most shocking and vile murders," Brnovich said. "This is about the administration of justice and ensuring the last word still belongs to the innocent victims who can no longer speak for themselves."

Atwood was sentenced to death for the 1984 kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Vicki Hoskinson in Tucson. Prosecutors said he took the girl while she was riding her bicycle, killed her and left her body in the desert. A hiker found her body in April 1985.

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Atwood's attorney, Joseph Perkovich, said there are still "open legal issues" in his client's case, including allegations that the victim was seen alive "hours after the only time Mr. Atwood could have crossed paths with her."

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"Frank Atwood's litigation since early 2020 has been frustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic," Perkovich said.

"The state is now attempting to sweep aside the most profound issues that can arise in our legal system, including whether the convicted is actually guilty of the crime and whether death is a morally or legally tenable punishment in the individual's case. Mr. Atwood needs the opportunity to present these issues before the Arizona Supreme Court entertains setting an execution date."

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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. Dixon was connected to the slaying about two decades later with the enhancement of DNA testing. He had already been serving a life sentence on a 1986 sexual assault conviction.

Dixon's lawyer, Dale Baich, issued a statement Tuesday saying his client shouldn't be executed because he has "severe mental illness and debilitating physical disabilities, including blindness."

"Moreover, by seeking to execute Mr. Dixon, the state is attempting to skirt its own responsibility for failing to protect him from the horrific abuse and neglect he suffered as a child, failing to implement proper supervision when he was found to be not guilty by reason of insanity in connection with a different crime and just days before the murder, and failing to conduct a thorough and reliable investigation into the case."

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Baich said Dixon 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.

Brnovich's announcement Tuesday came one month after he revealed that Arizona had found a supplier of pentobarbital, a sedative used in lethal injections.

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.

Arizona did not reveal the new supplier of the pentobarbital it plans to use going forward.

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