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Lawyers say execution is unconstitutional, citing mental incompetence

Clarence Dixon death row.png
Posted at 4:26 PM, Apr 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-10 22:48:36-04

PHOENIX — Clarence Dixon is sentenced to death for the 1977 killing of an Arizona State University student. Friday, April 8th, Dixon’s defense team filed a motion to bar his execution according to the national non-profit, Death Penalty Information Center.

RELATED: Arizona issues first execution warrant in 8 years for murder, sex assault convict

Robert Dunham, the executive director of Death Penalty Information Center says, “Shortly after the death warrant was issued last week, his lawyers on Friday filed a motion to bar his execution, saying that to execute Clarence Dixon would violate the federal constitution and Arizona's Constitution because he's mentally incompetent.”

"If you do not have a rational understanding, you do not know why you were being executed or that you were being executed one or the other of those then it is unconstitutional, to carry out your execution,” says Dunham.

DPIC says they provide information and analysis on the death penalty and don’t take a stance on the topic.

"I think it would be malpractice if his lawyers had not filed this,” says Dunham. “We're dealing with a with a defendant with a lifelong history of mental illness, a history that's been documented in the courts with a finding of legal insanity, and a mental condition that doesn't improve over time. So if he was found to be legally insane, and his mental condition is worse now than it was then, it would have been professionally irresponsible not to have filed a motion like this.”

Dunham says for the state to execute Dixon in 35 days is a push. "One of the problems with short execution dates, is that when there are challenges to whether the execution itself should proceed as a part to challenges to the conviction and sentence that leaves a very, very short period of time in which to address them.”

What’s next after Dixon’s team filed the motion Friday?

"The next steps in this case are very difficult because of the artificially short time period for the death warrants. It's 35 days,” says Dunham. “The question of legal competency involves the mental state of the person at this particular moment in time. That means there have to be mental health evaluations, both by the defense and by the prosecution.”

Dunham says after that, there would be court proceedings and an opportunity for the judge to review the facts. He believes the defense will present several documents of Dixon’s mental health records.

"If the court finds that the Mr. Dixon is mentally incompetent, there'll be a stay of execution, which the prosecution may appeal,” says Dunham. “If the court does not find that Mr. Dixon is mentally incompetent, there will certainly be appeals, probably both at the state and federal level. So they'll work their way up to the United States Supreme Court.”

Dixon’s execution is scheduled for May 11th. The victim’s family telling ABC15 this week that this has been a long and painful road to get to this point. ABC15 has reached out to prosecutors for a response.