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Clarence Dixon, lethal injection and Arizona's history of execution

Posted: 5:08 PM, May 10, 2022
Updated: 2022-05-11 12:54:42-04
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Clarence Dixon

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Clarence Dixon, 66, will be executed on May 11th. It will be the first time an Arizona death row inmate has been put to death since 2014.

Dixon was convicted in the 1978 murder of Arizona State University student Deana Bowdoin. She was found dead in her apartment in Tempe, strangled with a belt, stabbed multiple times and raped.

DNA evidence found on the body of Bowdoin was not matched to a suspect until 2001 when a police detective entered it into a database, matching it to Dixon.

He was charged with first-degree murder and represented himself in the proceedings. During that trial, another woman testified that in 1985 while she was a student at Northern Arizona University, Dixon sexually assaulted her. He was convicted in that sexual assault as well.

Dixon, seen below, was sentenced to death, a final decision that will be carried out May 11 by lethal injection.

Clarence Dixon
FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections shows Clarence Dixon. A judge ruled Tuesday, May 3, 2022, that an Arizona prisoner convicted in the 1978 killing of a university student is mentally fit to be put to death next week. Dixon was convicted of murder in the killing of 21-year-old Arizona State University student Deana Bowdoin. (Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry via AP, File)

Lethal Injection's Early History
In 1887, New York physician J. Mount Bleyer released Scientific Methods of Capital Punishment. As proof that the more things change the more they stay the same, Dr. Bleyer's piece describes how the state of New York has reached out to medical professionals to find a humane way to execute those accused of capital crimes.

"The taking of human life by process of law has ever been regarded as a necessary exercise of the right of self-defence naturally vested in society, and an indispensable means of providing for the security and well-being of all its members: nevertheless there has arisen in recent times a strong feeling of opposition to the theory and practice of legal retaliation, as far as the death penalty is concerned, and in particular against the bungling and barbarous method of capital execution in use from time immemorial in England, and thence derived to America — death by strangulation, or by hanging." ~ Dr. Bleyer
J. Mount Bleyer (Scientific Methods of Capital Punishment)

Bleyer proposes a number of methods for executing criminals: Of most note is "death by morphine injection." Using a hypodermic syringe, a lethal dose of the opium derivative morphine is introduced to the bloodstream in two courses. The first would put the person being executed to sleep. The second dose would then be injected while the subject is asleep and stop the heart within a half hour. Bleyer champions this method as painless, free from "horrible displays" and a reduction to the drama that could be found in hangings. He also finds it more cost efficient; no longer needing to erect a gallows, all an executioner needs is a couch, a hypodermic needle and a drug that doctors were handing out like candy for nearly every pain (see, "the more things change" above).


The concept of lethal injection was not adopted — but it did see widespread use during Nazi Germany's "T4 Euthanasia Program". You'll recall in my previous discussion of capital punishment, Nazi Germany is well-known for murdering millions of Jewish people using gas. But throughout Hitler's reign, lethal injection was increasingly used as a means of killing those "unsuited to live." That included the elderly, the mentally ill and the emotionally distraught. The directive called these "a mercy killing."

This extended to children as well. Parents with mentally or physically handicapped children were encouraged to send those kids to clinics — where they would be murdered through lethal injection or starvation. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, "conservative estimates suggest that at least 10,000 physically and mentally disabled German children perished as a result of the child 'euthanasia' program during the war years."

The first to die was five-month-old Gerhard Ketschmar. The baby was severely disabled and his father considered him a monster. When local doctors refused to put him down, the father petitioned directly to Hitler, who would send his personal physician, Karl Brandt, to kill the baby. It is believed the child was killed by lethal injection.

Nazi Germany would create a hierarchy of physicians and psychiatrists who would champion the continued murder of those the Third Reich found unwanted. This would eventually lead to the systematic, mass murder of innocent people through gas.

Lethal Injection in America
Texas was the first state to administer lethal injection. Charles Brooks Jr. was given the death sentence in 1978, a year and a half after he and an accomplice murdered a mechanic at a used car lot. His execution in 1982 marked a milestone in American capital punishment. From then on, lethal injection would be used in around 1,100 executions.

Arizona used the gas chamber until 1992, when voters decided to replace it with lethal injection. The first Arizona inmate killed by this method was John George Brewer, executed in 1993 for murdering his girlfriend and engaging in necrophilia following the murder.

A lethal injection procedure should take five minutes altogether. Two minutes after the final injection, the person should die. The process is simpler than that of the gas chamber, and on paper, more humane. The prisoner is strapped onto a gurney and the drugs then administered. Most states use a three-dose method. The first dose is an anesthetic, putting the prisoner to sleep. The next is a muscle relaxant, paralyzing voluntary muscles and causing suffocation. The final drug is potassium chloride — which causes cardiac arrest.

Arizona, according to an execution procedures document from the Department of Corrections, offers two choices of a one-drug course. The first is pentobarbital, the second is sodium pentothal. Arizona was found in 2010 to have obtained execution drugs improperly. Pentobarbital was then used until 2013, when the drug was no longer sold to prisons for executions.

Luzdelia Caballero spoke to former Arizona Republic reporter Michael Kiefer, who broke multiple stories regarding lethal injection and witnessed some as well, back in April. She said that ABC15 in Phoenix filed a number of public records requests to find out who supplied the drug used in lethal injection.

Kiefer showed the KGUN 9 sister station public records he obtained, showing that the Department of Corrections "spent $1,500,000 to buy [1,000 doses of] the basic active ingredient in pentobarbital, used for pet euthanasia and executions." That purchase was made in 2020.

Clarence Dixon, lethal injection and Arizona's history of execution

Lethal Injection After Joseph Wood
Joseph Wood III was found guilty of the 1989 shooting and killing of both his ex-girlfriend Debbie Dietz and her father, Gene Dietz.

In 2014, he was executed for his crimes in a case that was a rallying point for those against capital punishment, and the termination of executions in the state, at least until now.

Kiefer was witness to the execution of Wood. He says at first, things were going well, the IV lines went in easily.

"They don't usually," Kiefer said. "Arizona is one of three states that will surgically cut a catheter into a condemned man's groin after failing to find veins in the arms or hands, a process used in nine of the past 14 executions."

The drug cocktail used in the execution of Wood had been used before, Kiefer noted, in two executions that were described as going on too long.

Wood's execution — would take nearly two hours.

"It was death by apnea. And it went on for an hour and a half. I made a pencil stroke on a pad of paper, each time his mouth opened, and ticked off more than 640, which was not all of them, because the doctor came in at least four times and blocked my view." ~ Arizona Republic reporter Michael Kiefer
Michael Kiefer, The Arizona Republic

Kiefer told ABC15 they administered Wood 15 injections during that timeframe.

Clarence Dixon and the Future of Lethal Injection

Back to the present: Clarence Dixon's attorneys challenged that testing should be required on the drugs used to execute him, contending the sedative to be used is past its expiration date. A judge has ruled to move forward with Dixon's execution, with Arizona's lawyers saying the sedative does not expire until August.

May 9th, the state produced a new batch of the drug to assuage any fears of the previous batch's efficacy. And as Dixon's attorneys continued to contest his mental fitness in the face of execution, that postponement too was rejected.

And in just another month, another death row inmate will be executed in Arizona. Frank Atwood, who was found guilty of the 1984 kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Vicki Lynn Hoskinson, will be executed at Florence State Prison on June 8th. He can choose between the gas chamber and lethal injection.

Just as the refurbishment of the Florence State Prison gas chamber stoked the ire of advocates against capital punishment, the return of prisoner executions this week again shines a spotlight on the debate of whether those who commit the most heinous of crimes deserve to be killed, whether they deserve more humane treatment, and whether the cost to taxpayers is truly worth it.

Expect that debate to become an increasingly prevalent subject in Arizona political and criminal discourse throughout the year.


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Sean Newgent is a producer for KGUN 9. Sean has been with KGUN since January of 2020 producing newscasts. Sean graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in broadcast journalism. While at ISU, Sean wrote movie reviews for the paper, anchored and produced student newscasts, and was nominated for a student Emmy for broadcast film reviews. He has also written a number of anime reviews, as well as reviewing movies, TV, video games, comics, and books. In his free time he is a voracious reader of history and writes weird horror short stories. Share your story ideas and important issues with Sean by emailing or by connecting on Twitter.