FLORENCE, AZ — An Arizona man convicted of murder in the 1984 killing of an 8-year-old girl was put to death Wednesday in the state’s second execution since officials resumed carrying out the death penalty in May following a nearly eight-year hiatus.
Frank Atwood, 66, died by lethal injection at the state prison in Florence for his murder conviction in the killing of Vicki Hoskinson, whose body was found in the desert, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a statement.
Vicki went missing months earlier after leaving her home in Tucson to drop a birthday card in a nearby mailbox.
Atwood is the second Arizona prisoner to be put to death in less than a month. The execution of Clarence Dixon last month ended Arizona's halt to executions that was blamed on the difficulty of obtaining lethal injection drugs and criticism that a 2014 execution in the state was botched.
Death penalty opponents worry that Arizona will now start executing a steady stream of prisoners who have languished on death row, but state officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on their future execution plans. No other executions have been scheduled so far in Arizona, which has 111 prisoners on death row, including Atwood.
Judges in recent weeks rebuffed attempts by Atwood's lawyers to have the execution delayed. He has maintained that he is innocent.
Atwood's lawyers argued that Atwood’s degenerative spinal condition would make it excruciatingly painful for him to be strapped on his back to a gurney, where prisoners lie as they receive lethal injections. The lawyers have also questioned whether the state officials met a requirement for the lethal injection drug’s expiration date to fall after the execution date.
Atwood’s attorneys also told the Supreme Court in court filings that the aggravating factor that made his crime eligible for the death penalty was invalidly applied. He was convicted in 1975 in California for lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 14 and was convicted of Vicki's killing in 1987. Judges have rejected that legal argument in the past.
Prosecutors claimed that Atwood was trying to indefinitely postpone his execution through legal maneuvers, saying his pain would be alleviated by propping him with a pillow on the gurney, which has a tilting function.
They also said he could continue taking his spinal condition pain medication ahead of the execution and would be given a mild sedative before it starts, the prosecutors said.
Authorities have said Atwood kidnapped Vicki, whose remains were discovered in the desert northwest of Tucson nearly seven months after her disappearance. Experts could not determine the cause of death from the remains, according to court records.
Witnesses said Atwood was unapologetic and didn’t acknowledge Vicki Lynne’s family.
Instead, inside the execution chamber, he prayed for mercy in his final moments.
“When something like this happened to Vicki Lynne it happened to the entire community,” said Tuscon reporter Bud Foster.
He told ABC15 he still remembers the day when eight-year-old Vicki Lynne went missing.
He has followed this case for decades, and today he was a media witness.
He spoke with Vicki’s mom, Debbie Carlson minutes before the execution.
“She said I’m finally free, because it has been a terrible burden on the family,” said Foster.
Frank Atwood, who has maintained his innocence, was prepped just after 9:30. Media witnesses estimated that preparation began around 9:37, and the execution started at 10:04 a.m.
Foster said they saw the entire process before hearing Atwood’s last words, which included thanking his wife Rachel.
Those words were read after.
“I want to thank my friends and legal team and most of all Jesus Christ, through this unfair judicial process that led to my salvation,” read DOC staff after the execution.
Foster and the other two media witnesses described the execution as calm, with a priest in the room with Atwood. DOC told ABC15 that it was the first time a priest was inside the chamber for an execution.
At 10:16, Atwood was declared dead.
After the execution, a press briefing, Vicki’s mom shared a message for her daughter.
“Vicki I want you to be free little one,” said Carlson. “Rest easy our precious little girl. May your spirit soar as it continues to live with us.”
Media witnesses all said that two IV’s were used, and Atwood seemed to helping the medical personnel.
“Here is someone that is maintaining his innocence and yet he is helping the executioners end his life,” said Jimmy Jenkins.
Jimmy Jenkins, a member of the media who served as a witness requested by Atwood and his attorneys said he saw medical personnel taking advice from Atwood himself as they tried to place a second IV.
Ultimately, he said they placed it in his right hand.
“Time and time again we see the execution team struggling to insert the IVs into the prisoners’ bodies. So, I think we need to find out more about the training that these people have or are not getting.
Jenkins is also referring to Dixon’s recent execution.
His attorney’s notes, which ultimately became court documents, showed it took almost 40 minutes to place an IV in one arm and one in his femoral vein.
Today ABC15 asked about Jenkins' recollection of the execution, and medical personnel taking advice from Atwood.
"ADCRR follows Arizona Revised Statutes and the protocols as set forth in the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry's Department Order 710- Execution Procedures. While the Department recognizes the right of the inmate to speak during the process, at no time is any team member reliant upon these utterances for successful accomplishment of the execution."
Before the pandemic, it was DOC’s own policy to have five media witnesses witness an execution.
The last two executions they have allowed just three.
ABC15 has requested both times, but were denied with no explanation.