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In rejecting death row inmate's case, judge says law enforcement isn't a profession

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections shows Clarence Dixon, who was sentenced to death in the 1977 killing of Deana Bowdoin, a 21-year-old Arizona State University student, in Maricopa County. On Wednesday, April 13, 2022, prosecutors asked the Arizona Supreme Court to call off an upcoming hearing scheduled by a lower-court judge to determine Dixon's mental fitness to be executed. Prosecutors say the hearing is likely to delay Dixon's execution, which is scheduled for May 11, 2022. (Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry via AP, File)
Clarence Wayne Dixon, 66, is scheduled to be executed in Arizona on May 11. His legal team argued that the state clemency board is made up of three members of the same profession — law enforcement — making it illegal. A judge shot down the defense's claim.

An Arizona inmate who is mere weeks away from his scheduled execution argued the state's clemency board was unfairly loaded with law enforcement. But a state judge has disagreed, saying that law enforcement does not meet the definition of a "profession."

Earlier this month, the Arizona Supreme Court issued an execution warrant – the first in eight years – for Clarence Wayne Dixon, a 66-year-old prisoner convicted of first-degree murder. But Dixon's attorneys argued Tuesday that the Arizona Board of Clemency, which is set to meet on April 28 to decide whether to stay the execution, is illegally made up of too many members who had careers in law enforcement.

This past Tuesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Stephen Hopkins ruled against Dixon.

"Historically, law enforcement has not been thought of as a "profession," Hopkins said in his decision. "It is not regulated as other professions are, and has little of the characteristics of what is typically considered a profession."

Hopkins went on to say that Dixon's argument of what constitutes a "professional discipline" is a broad one. "A person who worked for one week as a volunteer 9-1-1 operator is, under [Dixon's] definition, the equivalent of a [forty-year] homicide detective," Hopkins said.

Arizona law prohibits "No more than two members from the same professional discipline" from serving on the clemency board at the same time.

The current board is made up of: one former superior court commissioner and assistant attorney general; a former federal agent with over 30 years' experience; a retired officer who spent 30 years with the Phoenix Police Department; and a 20-plus-year detective, also with the Phoenix PD. The fifth seat on the board is currently vacant.

Dixon was serving seven life sentences for the 1985 kidnapping, rape and assault of a Northern Arizona University student, according to court documents, when investigators connected him with a murder that took place seven years earlier.

In 2001, DNA evidence linked Dixon to the January 1978 murder of Deana Bowdoin, a 21-year-old student at Arizona State University. She was found dead in her apartment, having been strangled and stabbed. A jury sentenced Dixon to death in 2008.

The Arizona Supreme Court issued Dixon's execution warrant earlier this month at the request of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

"I made a promise to Arizona voters that people who commit the ultimate crime get the ultimate punishment," Brnovich said in a statement. "I will continue to fight every day for justice for victims, their families, and our communities."

Dixon's execution, which appears all but certain at this time, will be the first to be carried out in Arizona since the botched execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood in 2014. Wood's execution should have taken a matter of minutes, NPR previously reported, but instead, the prisoner took more than two hours to die. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.