Clarence Dixon: Arizona executes 1st death row inmate in nearly 8 years

An Arizona man convicted of killing a college student in 1978 has become the first person to be executed in the state after a nearly eight-year hiatus in its use of the death penalty.

Clarence Dixon, 66, was put to death by lethal injection at the state prison in Florence for his murder conviction in the killing of 21-year-old Arizona State University student Deana Bowdoin. He is the sixth inmate to be put to death in the United States this year.

Final request for delay denied; last statement contains profanity

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-minute delay of Dixon’s execution less than an hour before his execution began. His execution was set for 10 a.m. on May 11. His last meal consisted of Kentucky Fried Chicken, strawberry ice cream, and a bottle of water.

He was pronounced dead at 10:30 a.m., and according to Frank Strada, a deputy director with Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry, his final statement was:

Witnesses describe execution

Troy Hayden

FOX 10's Troy Hayden, a witness to the trial, described seeing Dixon grimacing as IVs were inserted into his body. It took around 25 minutes to get all of them in, and he insulted doctors while questioning their motives, Hayden said.

"This is really funny - you are being as thorough as possible as you try to kill me," Dixon reportedly said. "How twisted is this? You worship death, don't you …I know you are seeing this Deana. You know I didn't kill you."

The death row inmate never made eye contact with the witnesses and stared up at the ceiling during his execution. The drugs went into his body at 10:19, and he fell asleep shortly after. 

Hayden the prisoner's very last words after being injected with the fatal chemicals were, "Maybe I'll see you on the other side Deana. I don't know you. I don't remember you."

Victim's sister

Deana Bowdoin's sister, Leslie James, spoke with relief at Dixon's execution.

"21, 23, 45 and 46: the ages when Deana’s, my, and my parents' lives were either taken or irreparably changed," said James. "One and zero: the number of sisters I had up until, and after Jan. 7, 1978."

Bowdoin's parents did not get a chance to witness the execution: they have died in the years since her murder.

During the news conference, James stated that the DNA evidence pointed directly to Dixon, and that it only took 17 minutes for a jury to convict him in the 1978 murder.

"This process was way, way, way too long," said James.

There was a one in a 17 octillion chance that it was anyone other than Dixon, James said.

James also talked about what she witnessed during the execution.

"He didn’t ingratiate himself to me at all," said James. "I saw him for five years, going to hearings. I saw him every day in trial, and why am I not surprised that he chose to use my sister's name?"

James said little else about Dixon's execution, opting instead to discuss her memories with her sister.

"She was the one who was supposed to have an exciting career, get married, and produce grandkids for my mom, but it didn’t work out that way for her," said James. "We should have been able to grow old together. All my mom ever wanted was that people would remember Deana. Please remember Deana Lynn Bowdoin."

Dixon's lawyers tried to postpone execution

In recent weeks, Dixon’s lawyers have made arguments to the courts to postpone his execution, but judges had so far rejected his argument that he is mentally unfit to be executed and had no rational understanding of why the state wanted to put him to death.

In arguing that Dixon was mentally unfit, his lawyers said he erroneously believed he would be executed because police at Northern Arizona University wrongfully arrested him in another case — a 1985 attack on a 21-year-old student. His attorneys conceded he was lawfully arrested by Flagstaff police.

Prosecutors said there was nothing about Dixon’s beliefs that prevented him from understanding the reason for the execution and pointed to court filings that Dixon himself made over the years.

Dixon declined the option of being executed by the gas chamber — a method that hasn’t been used in the United States in more than two decades — after Arizona refurbished its gas chamber in late 2020. Instead, the state plans to execute him with an injection of pentobarbital.

Protesters gather outside prison

After gathering at the Arizona State Capitol on May 10, anti-execution protesters gathered in the area of the Florence State Prison for a protest on May 11.

Continued Coverage

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