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Arizona clemency board denies petition by death row prisoner

Arizona clemency board denies petition by death row prisoner
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 28 (UPI) -- Arizona's clemency board on Thursday denied a petition by a death row prisoner scheduled to be executed next month for the murder of a university student in 1978.

The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency voted unanimously against the application by Clarence Dixon, 66, after several hours of presentations by his lawyers, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, victims' rights groups and a family member of Dixon's victim, Deana Bowdoin, KNXV-TV in Phoenix reported.

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Bowdoin was a student at Arizona State University when Dixon raped and murdered her. He's scheduled to be executed May 11.

Dixon's lawyers sought clemency citing his mental illness, physical disabilities, and abuse and neglect as a child.

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Members of the clemency board said they didn't believe Dixon showed remorse or acceptance of responsibility for the crime, Arizona Central reported.

"After taking in the totality, I am convinced Mr. Dixon knew right from wrong," board member Louis Quinonez said. "I do not recommend commutation."

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The hearing came one week after a judge ruled against Dixon's challenge of the makeup of the clemency board. In a court filing, his lawyers said the board wouldn't give him fair consideration because it includes too many former law enforcement officers.

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State law prevents more than two people from the same profession from serving on the board, which currently has three former law enforcement officers. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Stephen Hopkins ruled, though, that "law enforcement" isn't considered a profession under the statute.

"Forcing Clarence Dixon to seek clemency from an illegally composed board stacked with law enforcement officers is profoundly unfair," attorney Joshua Spears said Tuesday. "But because his mental incompetence, physical disabilities, and traumatic life history present compelling grounds for executive clemency, we must ensure he does not forfeit his opportunity to pursue that relief."

In the clemency petition, Dixon's lawyers said their client has had untreated paranoid schizophrenia for some four decades. They said he'd been found legally insane in connection to another crime two days after the slaying of Bowdoin.

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The attorneys also took issue with his trial judge allowing him to represent himself "despite his obvious mental illness."

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"Self-representation meant that the jury never learned important mitigating evidence about Mr. Dixon's traumatic childhood and the insanity findings shortly before the crime occurred," a news release from Dixon's lawyers said.

The filing said Dixon's father physically and verbally abused, and neglected his family, while his mother also used derogatory language toward her children. Both parents struggled to feed and care for their children on the Navajo Nation, causing Dixon to experience hunger, depression and suicidal ideation.

As a young adult, he abused alcohol and drugs, and began showing signs of mental illness.

In addition to mental illness, Dixon's lawyers say he has wasting syndrome, multiple heart, lung, liver and bladder ailments, and glaucoma.

"Clarence's advanced age and declining health present the risk that his execution by lethal injection using pentobarbital would likely result in undue suffering," the petition reads. "His lungs, liver and heart are damaged enough that it might take longer to circulate the medication to reach full toxicity dose leaving him feeling some of the effects of pentobarbital but not all of them."

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich earlier this month objected to a mental competency hearing scheduled for Tuesday, saying it would likely delay the May 11 execution.

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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.

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