Arizona authorities Wednesday executed Clarence Dixon for the 1978 rape and murder of an Arizona State University student despite Dixon’s lawyers’ attempts to halt the execution. Dixon’s execution was Arizona’s first since 2014.
On Tuesday the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld District Judge Diane Humetewa’s decision to deny Dixon’s petition for habeas corpus and a stay of execution. Dixon sought relief on the grounds that an Arizona state court erroneously declared him “competent to be executed” despite the fact that Dixon suffered from schizophrenia and that Dixon was previously found “not guilty by reason of insanity” in a 1977 assault trial.
In his opinion, Circuit Judge Daniel Bress said:
[T]he state court correctly… asked whether Dixon “lacks a rational understanding of the State’s rationale for his execution.” The court ultimately concluded that Dixon had not made this showing because, although Dixon “has a mental disorder or mental illness of schizophrenia,” this illness “can fall within a broad spectrum” and does not on its own “decide the question of competency.”
The state court issued its ruling that Dixon was competent to be executed last week. Arizona currently has 113 prisoners on death row.
The execution of inmates with mental illnesses has attracted widespread criticism. In March the Kentucky Senate passed a bill that prevented inmates with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses from being executed, following similar initiatives passed in Ohio.