Arizona executed Clarence Dixon at the state prison in Florence on Wednesday for the 1978 murder of 21-year-old ASU student Deana Bowdoin.
Dixon was executed at 10:30 a.m., according to Deputy Corrections Director Frank Strada.
“I do and always will proclaim my innocence — now let’s do this shit,” Dixon said in his last statement, according to Strada.
Troy Hayden, a media witness from Fox News, said the execution team had trouble getting IVs into Dixon, who grimaced and appeared to be in pain while this was happening.
Dixon seemed defiant and proclaimed his innocence in a calm voice.
Dixon made several comments to the medical team, insulted them, told them “they worshipped death,” mocked their Hippocratic oath, and addressed the woman he was convicted of killing, Deana Bowdoin, according to Hayden. Hayden said Dixon referenced Bowdoin several times directly, and said she knew he didn’t kill her.
Hayden said execution team members took 25 minutes to insert IVs into Dixon’s body, eventually resorting to making an incision and inserting an IV into Dixon’s groin.
Dixon was grimacing and appeared to be in pain while the execution team attempted to insert the IVs, Hayden said, but he appeared to lose consciousness a few minutes after the drugs were administered.
“They did have to wipe up a fair amount of blood,” said Paul Davenport, a media witness from The Associated Press, who saw the incision taking place.
Davenport said Dixon referenced the Arizona Supreme Court several times during the process.
Taylor Tasler, a media witness from KTAR, said Dixon never made eye contact with anyone. She heard Dixon gasp after drugs were administered and then appeared to go to sleep.
Tasler said there appeared to be no elected officials in the witness room.
“Today the process has been finalized,” said Leslie Bowdoin James, the sister of Deana Bowdoin, adding that her husband just died 12 days ago.
Addressing the media, Bowdoin read a list of numbers that she said were important to her.
“Forty-three and 20: the number of hearings and the number of years I have attended since the indictment,” she said. “Thirteen: The number of women that this inmate victimized. One and zero: The number of sisters I had up until, and after, January 7, 1978.”
Dixon was the first man put to death by Arizona since the botched execution of Joseph Wood in 2014.
“Dixon was afforded every possible due process remedy. Leslie never gave up seeking justice for Deana,” said Colleen Clase, chief counsel of Arizona Voice For Crime Victims and lawyer for Bowdoin James.
Bowdoin James said the execution was not closure, but justice has been served. She said it was been a large part of her life, but not all of her life, adding she has lost many family members.
“This is finality for this process. It’s relief. It was way, way, way too long,” she said.
In response to those who oppose the death penalty, James said the death penalty was currently the law in the state of Arizona. “The courts and the administration has to follow the law in this state,” she said. “My thinking has changed and evolved. It’s very personal. If you don’t care for the law that’s in place, there are steps to get the law changed.”
James said she did not think current law should be changed.
When asked how her thinking about the death penalty process had changed, James said “I had no idea it would take this long.”
Gov. Doug Ducey issued a statement after Dixon’s execution, calling it justice served.
“Today the family of Deana Bowdoin was provided the justice they’ve long been waiting for,” the governor’s statement stated. “The void left by Deana’s murder 44 years ago will never be filled, but the sentence carried out this morning is a solemn reminder that we are a nation of laws and it is the responsibility of the state to enforce them.”
Just over a dozen protesters gathered Wednesday morning at an intersection near Butte and Pinal Parkway avenues, lining the state prison’s barbed wire fence with anti-execution signage. Butte Avenue leading to the prison was blocked off by several police officers and their vehicles up until Dixon’s execution.
Most of the group of protesters appeared to either be a part of, or working in coalition with, Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona, a grassroots organization that aims to raise awareness about issues with the death penalty and seeks to abolish it.
The organization’s state advocacy director Kat Jutras said her frustration with Dixon’s execution in particular was his history of mental illness.
“The last 44 years he hasn’t had any adequate treatment or access and he’s been incarcerated during that time,” she said about 15 mins before his scheduled execution. “He’s not a danger to society, he’s more of a danger to himself. He’s enclosed in a room completely blind and has no idea what’s going on or what’s happening and they’re going to execute him today.”
“That type of frustration I think is powerful to use to continue our work as advocates because Clarence is not the only one, unfortunately, he had to be the first,” she continued.
Jutras at one point, while filming a livestream of her own, appeared to become emotional, noting Dixon was a member of the Navajo Nation.
“He’s a member of the Navajo Nation and deserved to live,” she said. “He deserved to have a life despite what he did in his past, and I think that we’re all here to offer our love to the victim and our condolences for what they’ve experienced over this 44-year period of time.”
The tribe has long opposed the death penalty and executions of tribal members, stating that it was a violation of their cultural and religious teachings. The tribe’s attorney general Doreen McPaul explained this in a letter she sent last summer to Attorney General Mark Brnovich in response to news of Dixon’s impending execution.
The group remained mostly quiet until about 10 a.m. when they gathered closer together and took turns speaking into a mic as Dixon was due to be executed. Deacon Rev. Bill Drobick, of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Florence, at one point led the group in The Lord’s Prayer.
Jessica MacTurk, an ACLU volunteer, explained to the group her opposition to the death penalty “in all forms, for all people.”
“I am morally, religiously, constitutionally, financially opposed to the death penalty,” she told the group while holding a sign stating, “Don’t kill for me.”
“It’s shocking to me that in this day and age that we’re still executing people in our country and that our punishment for murder is murder,” MacTurk continued.
Dixon’s attorneys made several attempts to stop or postpone the execution, maintaining he was mentally incompetent to understand why he was being executed.
But multiple courts found that while Dixon may have harbored delusions about a judicial conspiracy to kill him, he was aware of his circumstances and constitutionally eligible to be put to death.
Legal challenges from Dixon’s attorneys claiming the lethal injection drugs the state planned to use were expired prompted the Department of Corrections to order the creation of a new batch of compounded pentobarbital just two days before his execution.
The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency denied requests from Dixon’s attorneys for a commutation or reprieve. His attorneys asked for mercy, saying Dixon was blind, frail and in poor health and didn’t represent a danger to society or anyone in the prison system. But the board denied the requests, saying Dixon had failed to show any remorse for his crimes.
“Prosecutors have a solemn responsibility to speak on behalf of all victims, and especially for those who can no longer speak for themselves,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich, in a statement. “My focus was on securing justice for Deana Bowdoin, her family, and our communities, and that has been achieved today.”
Following the execution of Clarence Dixon? Download the free azcentral.com app for the latest news.
Arizona has not carried out an execution since the botched execution of Wood, which took nearly two hours to complete.
The state claims it has refined its execution protocols and is planning to use a single drug, pentobarbital, for executions, instead of the combination of drugs that were used on Wood. Pentobarbital was used successfully by the federal government in a series of executions conducted in 2020.
Dixon’s execution marks a return to the death penalty for Arizona after a troubled history that includes the state attempting to acquire execution drugs illegally in 2015 and more recently failing to accurately determine the shelf life of the pentobarbital the state plans to use moving forward.
Because the crimes Dixon was convicted of occurred before 1992, he had the choice between death by lethal injection or the gas chamber.
In-depth: As Arizona resumes death penalty, former executioner tells his story
The state’s last gas chamber execution was Walter LaGrand in 1999, documented by witnesses as lasting 18 minutes and characterized as agonizing. LaGrand was a German national convicted in 1984 for his role in the death of Kenneth Hartsock.
Deana Bowdoin grew up in the Valley and graduated with honors from Camelback High School.
She studied abroad while at Arizona State University and was considering a career in law, international marketing or diplomacy after taking the LSAT and the Foreign Service Officers tests.
How Dixon was identified: For 25 years, Deana Bowdoin’s killer was a mystery.
But in the early morning of Jan. 7, 1978, she was found dead inside her apartment. Her murder remained unsolved for more than 20 years.
In 2001, DNA technology connected Clarence Dixon to Bowdoin’s murder. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment hearing in January 2003, but he was ultimately convicted a few years later.
According to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, there are more than 20 people on death row who have exhausted their appeals.
Frank Atwood, sentenced in Pima County in 1987 for the murder of an 8-year-old girl, Vicki Lynne Hoskinson, is scheduled to be executed June 8.
Frank Atwood update: Court issues warrant of execution for death row prisoner
Have a news tip on Arizona prisons? Reach the reporter at email@example.com or at 812-243-5582. Follow him on Twitter @JimmyJenkins.
Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.