Legally insane death row prisoner in US can now be executed

A court has ruled that a death row prisoner previously declared legally insane can now be executed.

Earlier this month an Arizona Superior Court judge in America ruled that Clarence Dixon, whose execution is due on May 11, is "competent" to be executed.

Dixon has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, is visually impaired, and suffers from hallucinations and delusions. Shortly before the crime for which he is expected to be executed, he stood trial for assault and was found “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity” at Maricopa County Superior Court.

This was in 1977, when he was accused of hitting a stranger on the head with a metal pipe. He was treated in a state hospital and civil commitment proceedings were scheduled to start within 10 days of his trial in 1978, but instead Dixon was released. The murder for which he faces execution was committed two days after his release.

At his 2002 trial, he presented an argument that the charges were fuelled by a government conspiracy. Dixon has filed multiple lawsuits and motions related to this conspiracy theory since the mid-1990s.

In its May 3 ruling on Dixon’s incompetency to be executed claim, Pinal County Superior Court applied Arizona’s statutory legal standard for competency.

The court recognised that Dixon suffers from schizophrenia but noted expert disagreement about his understanding of the reason for his execution.

A judge ruled that Dixon had not shown that “his mental state is so distorted by a mental illness that he lacks a rational understanding of the state’s rationale for his execution”.

Dixon’s attorneys presented evidence that he is schizophrenic, has auditory and visual hallucinations, and has delusional thoughts, and provided testimony from a psychiatrist with over 30 years of experience in diagnosing and treating psychotic disorders. One of Dixon's legal team said: “[t]he execution of Mr. Dixon – a severely mentally ill, visually disabled, and physically frail member of the Navajo Nation – is unconscionable.” Dixon’s legal team is appealing the ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court.

However, a government expert witness testified that he believed Dixon had deluded beliefs but was not delusional nor incompetent to be executed. Dixon was also denied clemency by the Arizona Board of Clemency on April 27. Dixon is a member of the Navajo Nation, which has historically opposed the death penalty.

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