AG Brnovich to seek warrants on Arizona’s first 2 executions since 2014

Apr 6, 2021, 2:09 PM | Updated: Apr 7, 2021, 7:22 am

Frank Atwood, left, and Clarence Dixon (Booking Photos via Arizona Attorney General's Office)...

Frank Atwood, left, and Clarence Dixon (Booking Photos via Arizona Attorney General's Office)

(Booking Photos via Arizona Attorney General's Office)

PHOENIX – Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is seeking warrants to carry out the state’s first executions since 2014.

Brnovich announced Tuesday that he notified the Arizona Supreme Court to set a briefing schedule to govern the process of putting Frank Atwood and Clarence Dixon to death for their decades-old crimes.

“Hopefully this is the first step of the beginning of the end of our pursuit for justice for these killers that brutally victimized people in our society,” Brnovich told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

If the proposed schedule is accepted, Brnovich said in a press release he will file the execution warrants 16 days before the Supreme Court’s conference date. If the motions are granted, the state will have 35 days to carry out the executions.

Atwood and Dixon are among the approximately 20 Arizona death row inmates to have exhausted all their appeals. Overall, 115 Arizona inmates are on death row.

“I have spoken to both of these families [of the victims] and I made them a promise a long time ago that I was going to do everything I can to ensure that justice was done for their family members, and this is another step on that road,” Brnovich said.

“I think we as a society focus too often on the convicted killers and we forget about the families and the victims who suffered so much.”

Atwood was convicted of killing 8-year-old Vicki Lynne Hoskinson in 1984 after grabbing her while she rode her bike on a Tucson street.

“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,” Joseph Perkovich, an attorney for Atwood, said in a statement. “Mr. Atwood needs the opportunity to present these issues before the Arizona Supreme Court entertains setting an execution date.”

Dixon was found guilty of murdering 21-year-old Deana Bowdoin, an Arizona State University student, in her Tempe apartment in 1978.

He wasn’t convicted until 2008, after advances in DNA technology were used to identify him as a suspect. He’d already been serving a life sentence for other crimes.

“In light of Clarence Dixon’s severe mental illness and debilitating physical disabilities, including blindness, it would be unconscionable for the State of Arizona to execute him,” Dale Baich, an attorney for Dixon, said in a statement.

“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.”

Brnovich isn’t buying the defense.

“What’s unconscionable to me is someone who kills a 21-year-old college student and then spends decades getting housed and fed by the state of Arizona and mocking the system,” Brnovich said when told about the attorney’s statement.

Executions in Arizona have been on hold since the death of convicted murderer Joseph Wood, who was given 15 doses of a two-drug combination over two hours on July 23, 2014. His attorney said the execution was botched.

Death row inmates and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona filed a lawsuit after Wood’s execution, which led to the hiatus.

In July 2020, Brnovich reached a settlement over the state’s lethal injection procedures, opening the door for executions to resume.

Once the state reached the settlement, finding the required drug, pentobarbital, and somebody to prepare it were among the final steps before executions could resume.

In August 2020, Brnovich said he’d located a pentobarbital supplier. In October, Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry Director David Shinn said his agency had started the process of obtaining the drug and located a compounding pharmacist to prepare it for executions.

In a March 5 letter to Brnovich, Shinn said ADCRR “now stands ready to commence the execution process.”

Shinn wrote that the department, at the direction of Gov. Doug Ducey, “has been working diligently to obtain the drugs necessary to implement executions” and “to identify sources to prepare the drugs in compliance with Arizona law.”

Because their crimes were committed before Nov. 23, 1992, Atwood and Dixon can choose between lethal injection or gas as their method of execution under state law, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Last year’s settlement ensured that those who provide the supply of lethal injection drugs to the state will remain confidential and protected from harassment or retaliation from anti-death penalty activists.

In recent years, Arizona and other states have struggled to buy execution drugs after U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products in lethal injections.

Five years ago, the state tried to import sodium thiopental, which had been used to carry out executions but was no longer manufactured by companies approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The state never received the shipment because federal agents stopped it at the Phoenix airport and the state lost an administrative challenge to the seizure.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Taylor Kinnerup and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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AG Brnovich to seek warrants on Arizona’s first 2 executions since 2014