"Historically, law enforcement has not been thought of as a ‘profession’ … and has little of the characteristics of what is typically considered a profession," according to Judge Stephen Hopkins of the Maricopa County Superior Court, per NPR. The judge rejected the latest appeal effort by lawyers for Clarence Wayne Dixon, who is scheduled to be executed May 11. They argued their client could not receive a fair clemency hearing because the board is overloaded with law enforcement professionals. Under Arizona law, no more than two members from the same professional discipline can serve on the five-seat board. The current board includes a former attorney general, a former federal agent, a retired cop, and a current detective—but they’re not members of the same profession, according to Judge Hopkins, and so the execution will proceed.
Per ABC News, the Arizona Supreme Court issued an execution warrant for Dixon back on April 5. He is the first Arizona prisoner to face the death penalty since 2014, after the lethal injection of Joseph Wood, who was given 15 doses of a two-drug combination over two hours in what lawyers described as a botched execution. Arizona has since established new lethal-injection protocols to prevent the use of expired chemicals. Alternatively, prisoners can choose the gas chamber, which the state overhauled in 2020 in response to federal objections to its "brutal" nature.
Dixon was already in jail for murder in 2002 when DNA testing linked him to a 1978 rape and murder, for which he was convicted and sentenced to death. Native News Online notes that Dixon—a Navajo—has a long history of mental illness linked to paranoid schizophrenia. He was arrested for assault in 1977 but found not guilty by reason of insanity by then-Judge Sandra Day O’Connor. While Attorney General Mark Brnovich says he’s fulfilling his promise to voters that "people who commit the ultimate crime will get the ultimate punishment," some—including columnist EJ Montini of the Arizona Republic—say executing a mentally ill man violates the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment, as decided by the US Supreme Court in 2002. (Read more death penalty stories.)