Clarence Dixon was executed shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday at the state prison in Florence.
He was convicted in 2008 for the 1978 murder of Deana Bowdoin, a 21-year-old senior at Arizona State University, who was found dead inside her apartment with a belt around her neck.
The 66-year-old Dixon was the first person executed by Arizona since the botched execution of Joseph Wood in 2014.
Follow coverage from Republic reporters of the execution here.
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For subscribers: As state resumes death penalty, former executioner tells his story
12:30 p.m. Ducey, Brnovich release statements on execution
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued a statement following 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 reads. “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.”
Dixon’s death was the first execution carried out during Ducey’s tenure, and occurred Wednesday while the Republican governor was in Washington, D.C., for a series of meetings with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
The last execution in 2014 was during the final six months of former Gov. Jan Brewer’s leadership and preceded Ducey’s election by four months. Because of legal challenges over the state’s use of capital punishment, Ducey was largely not forced to address the controversial issue, at least not frequently. In 2019, he signed a bill into law limiting the circumstances under which the state could seek the death penalty.
Ducey typically framed capital punishment in legal terms, as a duty required by the laws of the state he leads. He echoed that belief in his Wednesday statement, and last week to a gathering of reporters at an unrelated event, adding that “in certain situations, the death penalty is justice.”
Attorney General Mark Brnovich also released a statement, echoing Ducey’s statements about justice.
“Prosecutors have a solemn responsibility to speak on behalf of all victims, and especially for those who can no longer speak for themselves,” said Brnovich. “My focus was on securing justice for Deana Bowdoin, her family, and our communities, and that has been achieved today.”
— Stacey Barchenger and P. Kim Bui
11:36 a.m.: ‘He’s a member of the Navajo Nation and deserved to live’
Just outside the state prison in Florence, a small group of just more than a dozen protesters gathered.
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. People held signs with statements like “an eye for an eye leaves the world blind.” A few cars drove by, shouting expletives or yelling, “Justice for Deana.”
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 Bill Drobick, of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Florence, led the group in the Lord’s Prayer.
“Clarence has a very well documented record of mental illness, severe mental illness …and the last 44 years he hasn’t had any adequate treatment or access and he’s been incarcerated during that time. He’s not a danger to society, he’s more of a danger to himself,” Kat Jutras, state advocacy director of Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona, said about 15 minutes before the execution was scheduled to begin.
“That’s 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.”
Jutras also mentioned that Dixon is 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.”
— Chelsea Curtis
11:36 a.m.: Deana Bowdoin’s family reacts
Leslie Bowdoin James, Deana Bowdoin’s sister, was at Clarence Dixon’s execution. She said the event was not closure, but it provided finality.
“This is finality for this process. It’s relief. It was way, way, way too long,” she said. “Why am I not surprised that (Dixon) chose to use my sister’s name?”
Colleen Clase, chief counsel for Arizona Voice For Crime Victims and Bowdoin James’ lawyer, said the family continually sought justice for Deana.
“Dixon was afforded every possible due process remedy,” she said. “Leslie never gave up seeking justice for Deana.”
The process has been long and grueling for Bowdoin James, who told media her husband just died 12 days ago. She said she feels justice has finally been served.
“Your words can hurt, but your words can help and heal also,” she told media at the execution. “43 and 20. the number of hearings and the number of years I have attended since the indictment.”
— Jimmy Jenkins
11:06 a.m.: Witness says Dixon gasped when drugs administered
Taylor Tasler, a media witness for KTAR said Dixon never made eye contact with anyone during the execution. Dixon gasped after the drugs were administered and then looked like he went to sleep, she said.
Dixon did appear to lose consciousness a few minutes after the injection, confirmed Troy Hayden, a media witness for Fox 10.
Hayden said Dixon made several comments to the doctors, insulted them by mocking their Hippocratic oath and said they “worshipped death.”
Witnesses said there were issues inserting the IV. Dixon, who was 67, appeared to be in pain as the execution team tried to place the IV, eventually putting it in his groin.
“I did see what appeared to be some cutting into the groin, they did have to wipe up a fair amount of blood,” said Paul Davenport, a media witness for the Associated Press.
— Jimmy Jenkins
10:51 a.m.: Dixon executed by lethal injection
Arizona has executed Dixon for the 1978 murder of 21-year-old ASU student Bowdoin.
Frank Strada, deputy director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, confirmed the execution by lethal injection of Dixon took place at 10:30 a.m. at the state prison in Florence. Dixon was the first man put to death by Arizona since the problematic execution of Wood in 2014.
Dixon chose to make a final statement: “I do and always will proclaim my innocence — now let’s do this shit.”
Troy Hayden, a media witness, said the execution took place slightly late — it was scheduled for 10 a.m. It took 25 minutes to put IVs in because execution team had trouble and ended up inserting an IV into an alternate location, Hayden said.
Dixon grimaced, Hayden said, and appeared to be in pain while the IVs were inserted.
Outside, a group of protesters started slowly dispersing when police began to leave, though some stayed back for official word of the execution.
One man was overheard saying, “I guess we just go back to life now, it’s weird.”
— Jimmy Jenkins, Chelsea Curtis Mike Cruz and P. Kim Bui
9:45 a.m.: Navajo Nation opposes death penalty, execution of tribal member
Navajo Nation Attorney General Doreen McPaul in a letter last year explaining the tribe’s position on Clarence Dixon’s case said it opposed the death penalty and execution of its tribal members.
Dixon is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, according to his attorney and McPaul’s letter.
The letter dated June 6, 2021, came two months after Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced the state’s intent to seek warrants of execution against Dixon and fellow death-row prisoner Frank Atwood.
Two weeks after McPaul’s letter, Brnovich asked to expedite the men’s executions, but his request was ultimately denied by the Arizona Supreme Court.
“Navajo culture and religion holds every life sacred and instructs against the taking of human life for punishment,” McPaul said. “Committing a crime not only disrupts the harmony between the victim/family and the perpetrator, but it also disrupts the harmony of the community.
“The death penalty removes the possibility of restoring harmony; whereas a life sentence holds the opportunity to reestablish harmony and find balance in our world,” she continued. “For these reasons, the Navajo Nation submits its strong opposition to the execution of a Navajo tribal member by the State.”
McPaul went on to invite Brnovich to meet to discuss the matter further. It is unclear if he accepted her offer.
The Navajo Nation has long opposed the death penalty and executions of tribal members. For years leading up to the 2020 federal execution of Lezmond Mitchell in Terre Haute, Indiana, tribal officials pleaded with the federal government to spare him. He was the first Native American the federal government executed in modern history.
— Chelsea Curtis and Lauren Castle
9:30 a.m.: Protesters outside prison
Protesters gathered outside the state prison in Florence where Clarence Dixon is scheduled to be executed at 10 a.m. for the 1978 murder of Deana Bowdoin.
Just before 9 a.m., people quietly gathered near Butte and Pinal Parkway avenues, with most carrying signs decrying the execution.
Two separate drivers traveling through the intersection shouted “Kill him” and obscenities as they passed the group of about 12 protesters outside the prison’s barbed fence. The protesters didn’t appear to react to shouts.
The crowd was mostly quiet, talking with each other while holding signs.
Rod McLeod, secretary of Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona, said the death penalty was just wrong.
“It’s a bad policy, a bad law. We’d like to change the law eventually, that’s our ultimate goal,” McLeod said, adding that there was no evidence to show executions deter crime.
— Chelsea Curtis
9:15 a.m.: Supreme Court denies stay
The United States Supreme Court on Wednesday denied Clarence Dixon’s request for a stay of execution.
Dixon’s execution by lethal injection will proceed at 10 a.m. Arizona time.
— Jimmy Jenkins
9 a.m.: Clarence Dixon’s last meal
Clarence Dixon’s last meal consisted of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a half pint of strawberry ice cream and a bottle of water, according to the Arizona Department of Corrections.
Dixon is scheduled to be executed at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the state prison in Florence.
He was convicted in 2008 for the 1978 murder of Deana Bowdoin, a 21-year-old senior at Arizona State University.
— Jimmy Jenkins and Mike Cruz
8:30 a.m.: Attempts to stop execution filed
Dixon has exhausted his appeals, but his attorneys in recent weeks have filed a series of legal challenges accusing the state of planning to use expired drugs for his execution.
The lawyers argued the state was relying on testing results from older batches of compounded pentobarbital to prove the drugs it was planning to use in Dixon’s execution this week were safe and effective. They claimed the previous batch was compounded in February and expired in April.
The quality of the drugs was important because they could lead to a prolonged or ineffective execution if they were contaminated or not sufficiently potent, Dixon’s attorneys said.
On Monday, the state produced a new batch of the drugs and provided Dixon’s team with testing results regarding its potency.
“The result today means that Dixon’s execution will be carried out with drugs that are not expired, and in compliance with the Department of Corrections’ protocols, which is what we had been asking for,” said assistant federal public defender Jen Moreno.
Attorneys for Dixon are pursuing separate legal action to stop the execution, asking the federal courts to review an Arizona state court’s determination that he is mentally competent to be executed.
— Jimmy Jenkins and Chelsea Curtis
7:30 a.m.: First state execution since 2014
Clarence Dixon on Wednesday will become the first person executed in Arizona since 2014 when the practice was suspended following the botched execution of Joseph Wood.
The state’s lethal injection drug mix at the time was a cocktail of the Valium-like midazolam and a narcotic called hydromorphone, resulting in Wood’s execution taking two hours. Witnesses said Wood could be seen repeatedly gasping for air.
The state was then forced to overhaul its procedures and find a new approved drug cocktail. In March 2021, the Department of Corrections announced it had acquired pentobarbital for lethal injections moving forward.
Because the crime Dixon was convicted of occurred before 1992, when Arizona outlawed execution by lethal gas, he has the choice between death by lethal injection or the gas chamber.
According to the warrant of execution, Dixon must “notify the Department of Corrections at least twenty calendar days prior to the date of execution.” If he does not choose, the court said the death penalty “shall be inflicted by lethal injection.”
Jennifer Moreno, Dixon’s attorney, said Arizona has a “history of problematic executions.”
“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. “Under these circumstances, the execution of Mr. Dixon — a severely mentally ill, visually disabled, and physically frail member of the Navajo Nation — is unconscionable.”
— Jimmy Jenkins, Lacey Latch and Chelsea Curtis
6:30 a.m.: ‘I will never stop thinking of Deana’
Deana Bowdoin grew up in the Valley and graduated with honors from Camelback High School.
While at ASU, she studied abroad and made many plans for her last semester and life after graduation. Bowdoin was considering a career in law, international marketing or diplomacy after taking the LSAT and the Foreign Service Officers tests.
But in the early hours of Jan. 7, 1978, she was found dead inside her apartment and her murder would remain unsolved for more than 20 years.
Who did Clarence Dixon kill? For 25 years, Deana Bowdoin’s killer was a mystery
It wasn’t until advancements in DNA technology that officials in 2001 could connect Clarence Dixon to Bowdoin’s murder. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment hearing in January 2003 but was ultimately convicted a few years later.
Bowdoin was described by her sister Leslie James as “a beautiful person, inside and out.”
“I will never stop thinking of Deana,” James recently said in a statement responding to news of Dixon’s execution warrant issued in early April. “But I look forward to resolution of Dixon’s criminal matter through the imposition of punishment.”
“The last 44-plus years of reliving Deana’s brutal murder as well as enduring the trial and appellate litigation has been nothing short of horrific for our family,” she later added. “As victims, the Arizona Constitution guarantees a prompt and final conclusion of this matter.”
— Jimmy Jenkins, Lauren Castle and Chelsea Curtis