Law enforcement ‘is not a profession,’ judge decides to challenge Arizona clemency commission

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A judge has rejected death row inmate Clarence Dixon’s last-ditch effort to challenge the composition of Arizona’s clemency board.

Lawyers for Dixon had argued that the board, which will consider commuting the death sentence later this month, was illegally stacked with former cops.

State law requires that the board have no more than two members from any professional discipline. Three members of the five-person council have worked in law enforcement for decades. The chairman of the board is a former deputy attorney general and the other seat is vacant.

But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Stephen Hopkins disagreed. On Tuesday morning, Hopkins reversed the special action filed last week, on the grounds that law enforcement “has not been considered a ‘profession’.”

Dixon’s execution is scheduled for May 11. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich tried for a year to issue a death warrant in his case.

Dixon was convicted of the murder of Deana Bowdoin, a 21-year-old ASU student, who was raped and stabbed to death in her apartment in 1978. Dixon, Bowdoin’s neighbor at the time, was only linked to the crime only decades later. , when DNA evidence led detectives to him. He was already serving life in prison for another sexual assault on a young woman.

Bowdoin’s sister continued to advocate for Dixon’s other victims over the ensuing years and said she supported the death penalty in his case. “When my mother passed away in 2009, all she wanted was final justice for Deana, and for people to always remember Deana,” her sister, Leslie, wrote in a letter to Governor Doug Ducey. in 2020.

If the execution goes as planned, it will be the first time Arizona has applied the death penalty since a badly botched execution in 2014.

In the days after Dixon’s death warrant was issued, his team of lawyers attempted to stay the execution. They argued that executing Dixon would be unconstitutional, given his well-documented serious mental illness.

And they also filed this special action, arguing that the composition of the clemency board violated Dixon’s right to a fair trial.

The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency is considering a variety of petitions from imprisoned people for commutations or pardons. Only the governor has the power to commute sentences, but he considers the recommendations of the pardons committee.

Dixon’s case is the first momentous case the board has heard in years, and therefore the first such case heard by these five panelists. Clemency hearings are one of the last legal hurdles standing in the way of an execution. Dixon’s court hearing is scheduled for April 28, less than two weeks before his expected death.

In their lawsuit, Dixon’s attorneys argued that three board members – Salvatore Freni, Louis Quiñonez and Michael Johnson – all came from the same professional discipline, law enforcement.

The three members of the board of directors together have 85 years of experience in the field. Freni and Johnson worked at the Phoenix Police Department for 30 years and 21 years, respectively. Freni served as an officer, detective and lieutenant; Johnson spent most of his time as a homicide detective and later served three terms on the Phoenix City Council.

Quiñonez, meanwhile, worked for 27 years as a federal law enforcement officer with multiple agencies and has since taught criminal justice at Glendale Community College.

Hopkins, in his ruling, questioned whether law enforcement could be considered a profession. “It is not regulated like other professions and exhibits few of the characteristics of what is generally considered a profession,” he wrote. This, he said, called Dixon’s argument into question.

“If the legislature intended to say ‘no more than two council members can have prior law enforcement experience,’ it could easily have done so,” he wrote.

Further, Hopkins ruled that the attorneys failed to argue that the three board members came from different disciplines, given their distinct roles in law enforcement. “Insofar as law enforcement can be considered a ‘profession’, the Court concludes from the information presented that each of these three members represents a different ‘discipline’ within the broad rubric of law enforcement,” he wrote.

In a statement Tuesday, Dixon’s attorneys said they plan to appeal the decision.

“Mr. Dixon is entitled to a fair clemency hearing before an impartial clemency board that fully upholds state law, not one illegally stacked with law enforcement officials,” Joshua Spears wrote. , one of Dixon’s attorneys. “We are considering our options to appeal the Superior Court’s decision.”

You can read Judge Hopkins’ full opinion below:

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