Arizona Resumes Executions
by Eike Blohm, MD and Chuck Sharman
After Arizona resumed executions last year, following an eight-year hiatus, it quickly murdered three murderers on its death row.
On May 11, 2022, a lethal injection of pentobarbital was given to Clarence Dixon, 66, a mentally ill Native American, by then blind. Blaming unidentified government conspirators, he had attempted to represent himself at trial when he was convicted of a 1978 rape and murder.
On June 8, 2022, the same method was used to kill Frank Atwood, 66. Convicted of the 1984 kidnapping and murder of an eight-year-old girl, his attorney insisted that the case against him “was purely circumstantial and significant evidence pointed to another suspect.”
On November 16, 2022, another shot of pentobarbital killed Murray Hooper, 76. He was picked out of a lineup by the surviving wife and daughter-in-law of a man and his mother murdered in 1980, after she gave conflicting descriptions of their killer.
Not all of these went smoothly. Dixon’s lawyers argued the state Department of Corrections (DOC) was trying to kill him with expired drugs, prompting a scramble to compound new drugs just two days before his execution. Atwood had to help execution doctors locate a suitable vein for his lethal injections. No one witnessed any of the three executions from the state’s largest newspaper; a spokesperson for Gov. Doug Ducey (R) accused the Arizona Republic of publishing “false information” about the killing of Joseph Rudolph Wood in 2014.
Wood’s execution was the last carried out before 2022. The state paused them after the convicted murderer “was injected 15 times with an experimental combination of drugs” and then “snorted and gasped for air more than 600 times until he finally succumbed almost two hours later.” [See: PLN, Sep. 2016, p.52.]
To avoid that risk, Atwood and Hooper could have opted to die in the state’s gas chamber, since they were convicted before 1992, when its use was ended. Just in case they did, the state reportedly purchased a supply of potassium cyanide — the same poison used by the Nazis in Holocaust death chambers.
Of the 111 remaining DOC prisoners awaiting execution, 90 have yet to exhaust appeals. After the state last resumed executions in 1992, there were 37 prisoners killed before its most recent hiatus in 2014 — a rate that would take 66 years to empty Arizona’s death row.
The Death Penalty Information Center estimates 3% of U.S executions since 1890 have been botched. But the 1,054 lethal injections administered have a much higher rate — 7.12%.
Capital punishment has a complex and troubled history in the U.S. Between 1890 and 2010, there were 8,776 prisoners killed, an average of 73 per year. As more states have banned capital punishment and voter opposition has grown to the outdated penological approach, the pace has slowed, with 18 executions carried out in 2022. However, another 35 prisoners are facing execution in 2023.
Sources: Death Penalty Information Center, Arizona Republic, Phoenix New Times
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