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PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona remains on track, at least for now, to use the death penalty for the first time in nearly eight years in an execution in which a convict has the option of being put to death by the gas chamber — a method that has not been used in the United States for decades.

Clarence Dixon’s execution warrant sets a Thursday deadline to decide whether he will be put to death with a pentobarbital injection or with hydrogen cyanide gas for his murder conviction in the 1977 murder of student Deana Bowdoin at Arizona State University. Lethal injection is the default method if Dixon doesn’t make a choice.

The last execution in a gas chamber in the United States took place in 1999 in Arizona before the country rejected the brutal nature of the deaths.

The execution is scheduled for May 11, although prosecutors said it would likely be delayed if a judge holds a May 3 hearing to determine if Dixon is mentally fit to be executed.

One of Dixon’s legal efforts fizzled Monday when a judge dismissed his lawsuit challenging the current composition of Arizona’s Board of Executive Clemency, arguing that the board’s composition violates a law that only allows two people from the “same professional discipline” to sit on the board. Three board members previously worked in law enforcement.

Superior Court Judge Stephen Hopkins found that Dixon’s attorney used an extremely broad definition of “professional discipline” and pointed out that the relevant statute did not use the words “labour” or “employment” in context. of the composition of the board.

The judge wrote that Dixon’s attorney had failed to show that there were more than two people on the board of the same discipline, explaining that the three members who were previously employed in the enforcement of law had worked in different disciplines in the field.

“Mr. Dixon is entitled to a fair clemency hearing before an impartial clemency board that fully upholds state law, not one that is illegally stacked with law enforcement officials,” Joshua Spears said. , attorney for Dixon, in a statement: “We are considering our options for appealing the Superior Court’s decision.

In a separate lawsuit, Dixon’s attorneys say he is mentally unfit for execution, arguing that their client’s psychological issues prevent him from rationally understanding why the state wants to end his life.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office asked the state Supreme Court to vacate the jurisdictional hearing in Pinal County.

Prosecutors, who said in court papers that the jurisdictional hearing would likely delay the execution, are seeking to overturn the order finding that defense attorneys had shown reasonable grounds to schedule a psychological fitness hearing. Dixon.

Authorities said Bowdoin, 21, who was found dead in her apartment, had been raped, stabbed and strangled. Dixon had been charged with raping Bowdoin, but the charge was later dropped due to statute of limitations. He was, however, found guilty of her death.

Arizona officials declined to say why they secretly renovated the gas chamber at Florence prison, southeast of Phoenix, in late 2020. However, the move came as states increasingly hard to get lethal injection drugs because the manufacturers refuse to supply them. .

It is unclear whether any of the Arizona death row inmates expressed a preference for the gas chamber.

Lethal gas enforcement laws remain in effect in Arizona, California, Missouri and Wyoming. The renovation of the Arizona gas chamber is again condemned internationally, including coverage in Israel and Germany drawing parallels to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

The last time Arizona used the death penalty was in July 2014, when Joseph Wood was given 15 doses of a combination of two drugs over two hours in an execution that his attorneys say was been botched.

States, including Arizona, have struggled to buy enforcement drugs in recent years after US and European drug companies began blocking the use of their products in lethal injections. Last year, Arizona Corrections officials revealed they had finally secured a lethal injection drug and were ready to resume executions.

Arizona has 112 prisoners on death row.

Jacques Billeaud, The Associated Press