By JACQUES BILLEAUD, Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — A judge plans to rule Tuesday night on a request by an Arizona prisoner to halt his May 11 execution on the grounds that his psychological issues prevent him from rationally understanding why the state wants suicide.
Lawyers for Clarence Dixon, who would be the first person executed in Arizona in nearly eight years, argued in a Florence, Ariz., court on Tuesday that executing their client for his murder conviction in the 1978 murder of 21-year-old student Deana Bowdoin would violate protections against the execution of mentally unfit people.
Dixon’s attorneys say he mistakenly believes he will be executed because Northern Arizona University police wrongfully arrested him in a previous case – a 1985 attack on a 21-year-old college student. His attorneys admit he was in fact legally arrested by Flagstaff police.
Dixon received life sentences in that case for sexual assault and other convictions. DNA samples taken while he was in prison later linked him to the Bowdoin murder, which at that time had not been solved.
Prosecutors, who unsuccessfully tried to get the Arizona Supreme Court to quash the mental capacity hearing, said nothing about Dixon’s beliefs prevented him from understanding the reason for the execution and pointed to documents filed by Dixon himself over the years.
“Regardless of his convictions, his closing arguments over the years have made it clear that his execution is based on his murder conviction and he understands the connection” between his guilty verdict and his scheduled execution, prosecutor Jeffrey Sparks said.
Eric Zuckerman, one of Dixon’s attorneys, said his client’s mental health issues spanned four decades. Zuckerman said Dixon’s thoughts are “polluted with delusions of persecution” and he believes the state wants to put him to death to protect lawyers and judges from what he perceives as embarrassment in the NAU case, not for his actions in the Bowdoin murder.
In addition to challenging his mental fitness, Dixon’s lawyers made another attempt on Tuesday to prevent his execution.
They filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to stay the killing of Dixon until corrections officials show that the compound pentobarbital to be used for the execution has been given an expiration date.
About a year ago, prosecutors moved to seek the execution of Dixon and another death row inmate, but the litigation was stayed by the state Supreme Court over concerns about the date expiry date of the drug to be used in lethal injections.
In the new lawsuit, attorneys for Dixon said corrections officials gave them heavily redacted records documenting testing for the drug, but they did not provide an assigned expiration date.
The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Rehabilitation declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Defense attorneys say Dixon was repeatedly diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, hallucinated regularly for the past 30 years and was found ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ in a 1977 assault case in which the verdict was rendered by Maricopa County. Superior Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, nearly four years before her nomination to the United States Supreme Court. Bowdoin was killed two days after the verdict, according to court records.
Authorities said Bowdoin, who was found dead in her apartment, was raped, stabbed and strangled. Dixon had been charged with raping Bowdoin, but the charge was later dropped due to statute of limitations. He was, however, found guilty of her death.
The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday also issued a warrant setting June 8 as the execution date for another death row inmate, Frank Atwood, for the 1984 murder of 8-year-old Vicki Lynn Hoskinson. Authorities claim that Atwood kidnapped the girl, whose body was found in the desert northwest of Tucson.
The last time Arizona used the death penalty was in July 2014, when Joseph Wood was given 15 doses of a combination of two drugs over two hours in an execution that his attorneys say was been botched.
States, including Arizona, have struggled to buy enforcement drugs in recent years after US and European drug companies began blocking the use of their products in lethal injections.
Arizona has 113 prisoners on death row.
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