The second man in a month was executed in Arizona this week. Frank Atwood, 66, who was convicted of the 1984 murder of 8-year-old Vicki Lynne Hoskinson, was executed by lethal injection at 10:16 a.m. Wednesday, June 8 at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence.
Atwood’s attorneys had sought to have his death sentence overturned, arguing that they had discovered an FBI memo showing that an anonymous caller had described seeing Hoskinson in a car unrelated to Atwood. Atwood’s defense was heard by the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning, which dismissed his final defense and cleared the way for his execution.
Atwood’s state assassination was followed less than four weeks by the May 11 execution of Clarence Dixon, also 66, both eight years after a federal judge granted a statewide stay following the botched execution of Jason Wood in 2014.
Wood received a cocktail of experimental drugs in 15 separate injections that took two hours to take effect. Reports from witnesses to the execution showed that he repeatedly snorted and gasped 600 times before his death, prompting outrage at the cruelty of his execution.
Local reports indicate that prison staff could not find a vein to inject the lethal dose, and ended up injecting Atwood in his right hand at his own request. According to KOLD-TV’s Bud Foster, Atwood’s execution reportedly went “without a hitch.”
KOLD-TV was one of three Tucson-area news organizations allowed to witness the execution. The Associated Press, which has a long history of witnessing executions, asked for permission to send a journalist, but was denied.
The execution outside Atwood’s was also tense and nearly botched. Dixon was executed despite being blind, suffering from schizophrenia and a member of the Navajo Nation, which is staunchly opposed to the death penalty on cultural and religious grounds.
Due to Dixon’s mental illness, his defense argued that he could not properly understand the reasons for his execution and therefore could not be legally executed. A psychiatrist who interviewed Dixon on several occasions said he believed he was being executed as part of a government conspiracy, not on the murder and rape charges on which he was convicted. However, the court ruled against Dixon, arguing that he was not sufficiently mentally handicapped to justify staying his execution.
Dixon’s defense continued to argue against his execution, refiling a motion on April 8 arguing that he was mentally unfit to be executed. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich urged the court not to even hold a hearing, arguing that doing so would delay Dixon’s execution, essentially claiming that killing a man was more important to the state than determine if this is legal.
Witnesses reported that Dixon struggled with pain for 25 minutes when prison staff failed to insert the IV in his left arm. Finally, the executioners injected his right arm and made a cut in his groin where they inserted an additional lethal injection. Paul Davenport, a media witness for the Associated Press, noted, “I saw what appeared to be a cut in the groin, they had to clean up quite a bit of blood.”
These recent executions have raised concerns among those opposed to the death penalty, with Amnesty International noting in particular that Arizona currently has 111 inmates on death row, 22 of whom have all exhausted their appeals. Dan Peitzmeyer, Amnesty International’s coordinator for the abolition of the death penalty, described the executions as a “door opener” for an escalation of executions in Arizona.
The deaths of Dixon and Atwood bring Arizona’s total number of executions to 39 since 1992, when the state switched from the previous method of death by gas chambers to lethal injections. Since Atwood had been convicted before 1992, he was given a choice as to his preferred method of execution.
Arizona’s lethal injection system was fraught with flaws and questionable legality. Not only was Wood executed with an experimental drug cocktail, but the state of Arizona has been caught using illegal drugs on multiple occasions. In 2011, the Justice Department determined that Arizona’s supply of sodium thiopental was illegally imported. And in 2015, the state of Arizona was caught trying to illegally import deadly injectable drugs from India, which were seized by FDA officials in Phoenix.
In 1999, the German citizen Walter LaGrand was executed by gas chamber in Arizona. Two years later, the International Court of Justice ruled that Arizona violated the Vienna Convention by not informing LaGrand of his right to seek help from the German consulate. A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona’s entire system of sentencing the death penalty was unconstitutional in Ring v. Arizona, which ruled that Arizona violated the defendant’s rights under the Sixth Amendment by having a judge with entrusted with the power to find facts sufficient to award the death penalty kick without the input of a jury.
It was reported by the Guardian last year that the state was reopening its gas chambers and preparing to use Zykon-B, the same chemical used by the Nazis in the Holocaust at the Auschwitz and Majdanek concentration camps. The state bought a block of potassium cyanide along with two other ingredients, sodium hydroxide pellets and sulfuric acid, for a few thousand dollars in December 2020.