A judge has thrown out death row inmate Clarence Dixon’s latest effort to challenge the makeup of Arizona’s clemency board.
Dixon’s lawyers had argued that the board, which later this month will consider commuting the death sentence, was illegally packed with former police officers.
State law requires that the board have no more than two members from any professional discipline. Three members of the five-person board worked in law enforcement for decades. The chairman of the board is a former deputy attorney general and the other position is vacant.
But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Stephen Hopkins disagreed. On Tuesday morning, Hopkins dismissed the special action lawsuit, which was filed last week, on the grounds that law enforcement “has not been considered a ‘profession’.”
Dixon’s execution is scheduled for May 11. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has been trying for a year to issue a death sentence in his case.
Dixon was convicted of the murder of Deana Bowdoin, a 21-year-old ASU student, who was raped and stabbed to death in her apartment in 1978. Dixon, Bowdoin’s neighbor at the time, was not connected to the crime until decades later. . , when DNA evidence led detectives to him. He was already serving a life sentence for another sexual assault on a young woman.
Bowdoin’s sister has continued to advocate for Dixon’s other victims in the years since and has said she supports the death penalty in his case. “When my mother passed away in 2009, all she wanted was final justice for Deana, and for people to always remember Deana,” her sister, Leslie, wrote in a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey in 2020.
If the execution proceeds as scheduled, it will be the first time Arizona has carried out the death penalty since a failed execution in 2014.
In the days since Dixon’s death sentence was issued, his legal team has been busy trying to stop the execution. They have argued that Dixon’s execution would be unconstitutional, given his well-documented and serious mental illness.
And they also filed this special action lawsuit, arguing that the composition of the clemency board violated Dixon’s right to due process.
The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency considers a variety of petitions from incarcerated persons for commutations or pardons. Only the governor has the power to commute sentences, but he considers the recommendations of the clemency panel.
Dixon’s case is the first capital case the board has heard in years, and therefore the first such case these five panelists have heard. Clemency hearings are one of the last legal obstacles standing in the way of an execution. Dixon’s hearing is scheduled for April 28, less than two weeks before his scheduled death.
In their lawsuit, Dixon’s attorneys argued that three board members — Salvatore Freni, Louis Quiñonez and Michael Johnson — came from the same professional discipline, law enforcement.
The three board members have, between them, a combined 85 years of experience in the field. Freni and Johnson served with the Phoenix Police Department for 30 and 21 years, respectively. Freni served as an officer, detective, and lieutenant; Johnson spent most of his time as a homicide detective and later served three terms on the Phoenix City Council.
Quiñonez, meanwhile, worked for 27 years as a federal law enforcement officer in various agencies and has since taught criminal justice at Glendale Community College.
Hopkins, in his ruling, questioned whether law enforcement could be considered a profession. “It is not regulated like other professions and has few of the characteristics of what is normally considered a profession,” he wrote. This, he said, called Dixon’s argument into question.
“Had the legislature intended to say, ‘no more than two members of the Board may have prior law enforcement experience,’ it could easily have done so,” he wrote.
Further, Hopkins ruled that the attorneys had not successfully argued that the three board members came from different disciplines, given their separate roles in law enforcement. “To the extent that law enforcement may be considered a ‘profession,’ the Court determines from the information presented that each of these three members represents a different ‘discipline’ within the broad rubric of law enforcement. law,” he wrote.
In a statement Tuesday, Dixon’s attorneys said they planned to appeal the ruling.
“Mr. Dixon is entitled to a fair clemency hearing before an impartial clemency board that fully complies with state law, not one that is illegally crammed with law enforcement officials,” wrote Joshua Spears, one of the attorneys. by Dixon. “We are reviewing our options to appeal the High Court ruling.”
You can read Justice Hopkins’ full opinion below: