By Jack Belloud, The Associated Press
Phoenix (Associated Press) – Prosecutors have asked the Arizona Supreme Court to cancel an upcoming hearing set by a lower court judge to determine the mental fitness of a prisoner to be executed in what would be the state’s first use of the death penalty in nearly eight years.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office told the state Supreme Court in a memo on Wednesday that the May 3 mental aptitude hearing scheduled in Pinal County for death row inmate Clarence Dixon will likely be adjourned to May 11. Dixon was sentenced to death for the 1977 murder of Arizona State University student Diana Bowdoin.
Prosecutors are seeking to overturn a lower court order that concluded that defense attorneys showed reasonable grounds to plan a hearing on whether Dixon was mentally fit.
Dixon’s attorneys said their client mistakenly believed he would be executed because police at Northern Arizona University wrongly arrested him in an earlier case — the 1985 attack on a 21-year-old student. His lawyers admitted that he was lawfully detained at the time by Flagstaff Police.
Dixon was sentenced to life in prison in that case for sexual assault and other convictions. DNA samples taken while he was in prison later linked Bowdoin’s murder, which was not resolved at that point.
His lawyers say Dixon’s inability to distinguish between fact and fiction in the case involving a University of North Carolina student has begun to seep into the Bowdoin murder case.
Dixon fired his attorney in the case related to Bowdoin’s death based on an unreasonable belief that DNA evidence was inadmissible in the murder case because he erroneously believed that the Northwestern University Police Department was not a legal entity when they arrested him for sexual assault, his current attorneys said.
Prosecutors told the state Supreme Court that although Dixon’s attorneys argued that their client’s focus on the 1985 sexual assault conviction showed he was ineligible to deny his right to counsel, the courts in post-murder sentences “found that Dixon’s focus on this The legal challenge, while untenable, did not show a lack of competence.” “The state’s attempt to overturn the appropriate lower court decision to grant a hearing jurisdiction to Clarence Dixon, who has a history of schizophrenia and past findings of legal incompetence, undermines the legal process that will determine whether his execution violates the Constitution,” Eric Zuckerman, one of Dixon’s attorneys, said in a statement.
Dixon’s lawyers argue that executing Dixon would violate protections against executing mentally incompetent people. They cited the conclusion of a psychiatrist that their client lacked a rational understanding of the reasons for his execution.
Prosecutors said Dixon’s legal theory was not legally viable, but argued that his attempts to retract his murder conviction showed he had a reasonable understanding of why the state was seeking his execution.
Defense attorneys say Dixon has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia on multiple occasions, has regularly experienced hallucinations for the past 30 years, and was found “not guilty by reason of insanity” in a 1977 assault case in which the judgment was rendered by then Maricopa County. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, nearly four years before her appointment to the US Supreme Court. According to court records, Bowdoin was killed two days after the sentencing.
Authorities said the 21-year-old Baudouin, who was found dead in her apartment, was raped, stabbed and strangled. Dixon was charged with raping Bowdoin, but the charge was later dropped on the grounds of a statute of limitations. However, he was convicted of her death.
The last time Arizona used the death penalty was in July 2014, when Joseph Wood received 15 doses of a mixture of two drugs over two hours in an execution his lawyers said was a fiasco.
States, including Arizona, have struggled to purchase execution drugs in recent years after US and European drug companies began banning their products from being used in lethal injections. Last year, Arizona corrections officials revealed that they finally got a lethal injection and are ready to resume executions.
In addition to the Pinal County Court’s request for mental fitness measures, Dixon’s attorneys have filed two other lawsuits over the past week.
In one lawsuit, they asked the court to prevent the Arizona Executive Board of Compassion from holding its pardon session on April 28, arguing that the formation of the board would violate state law that limits the number of people of the same profession from serving on the board. The lawsuit said three of the four current board members are retired law enforcement professionals.
Dixon’s lawyers also filed a federal lawsuit protesting several terms of his incarceration since the death warrant was issued and he was moved to another cell where he was observed around the clock and had limited access to personal property.
As of Friday afternoon, no hearings have been scheduled in either case.
Arizona has 112 inmates on death row.
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