Who Is Clarence Dixon? Arizona to Execute First Death Row Inmate in 8 Years

The Arizona Supreme Court has issued an execution warrant for death row inmate Clarence Dixon.

The court on Tuesday set a May 11 execution date for 65-year-old Dixon, who was sentenced to death for the killing of 21-year-old Arizona State University student Deana Bowdoin.

Bowdoin had been raped, strangled and stabbed to death in her Tempe apartment in January 1978, prosecutors said.

But it wasn't until 2001 that a police detective tested DNA against a national database and found it matched Dixon's profile. Dixon was then serving a life sentence for a sexual assault conviction, but had lived across the street from Bowdoin at the time of her killing. He was indicted for Bowdoin's murder in 2002.

If it goes ahead, Dixon's execution would be Arizona's first use of the death penalty in almost eight years.

Botched Execution

Arizona hasn't carried out the death penalty since the botched 2014 execution of Joseph Wood, who was reportedly gasping and struggling to breathe for much of the two hours that it took to put him to death.

"I made a promise to Arizona voters that people who commit the ultimate crime get the ultimate punishment," Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a statement. "I will continue to fight every day for justice for victims, their families, and our communities."

Jennifer Moreno, one of Dixon's attorneys, said Arizona has a "problematic" history in carrying out the death penalty.

"The state has had nearly a year to demonstrate that it will not be carrying out executions with expired drugs but has failed to do so," Moreno said in a statement, according to AZCentral.

"Under these circumstances, the execution of Mr. Dixon—a severely mentally ill, visually disabled, and physically frail member of the Navajo Nation—is unconscionable."

Last year, Brnovich had sought execution warrants for Dixon and another death row inmate, Frank Atwood.

But the state Supreme Court threw out the execution schedules after prosecutors acknowledged the shelf life of the state's lethal injection drug was 45 days, half as long as they had previously thought.

In January, the state resumed efforts to seek execution warrants after saying it had done specialized testing on the pentobarbital to be compounded and it had determined its shelf life to be at least 90 days, the Associated Press reported.

Dixon now has 20 days to decide whether to be executed by lethal injection or by gas. If he doesn't make a choice, lethal injection will be the default method, according to the warrant.

Lethal Injection Drugs

Arizona and other states have struggled to purchase lethal injection drugs in recent years, but corrections officials revealed in March 2021 that they had finally obtained pentobarbital and could resume executions.

While Arizona banned the use of the gas chamber decades ago, state law allows inmates to choose the method if they were convicted of crimes that occurred before Arizona adopted lethal injection in 1992.

Last year, the state prompted an an outcry after it emerged that it had secretly refurbished its gas chamber in 2020, and purchased materials to make hydrogen cyanide, a deadly gas used in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust.

The Guardian newspaper first reported the details, revealing Arizona's Department of Corrections had bought a solid brick of potassium cyanide in December 2020 for $1,530.

Clarence Dixon
The Arizona Supreme Court has set an execution date for Clarence Dixon, who was sentenced to death in the killing of Deana Bowdoin in Maricopa County. Arizona Department of Corrections via AP, File