The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency represents one of the last chances for people condemned to die to save themselves from the death penalty.
But a legal challenge from a man on death row claims the board is filled with law enforcement and therefore inherently prejudiced against him.
After a defendant has exhausted their appeals process, and an execution date has been set, the clemency process begins.
Defendants have a hearing before the board where they can make their case for mercy.
The board then votes to make a recommendation to the governor as to whether to grant some kind of relief in the form of a “Commutation of Sentence and/or a Reprieve.” The governor can accept or deny the board’s recommendation.
Clarence Dixon, sentenced to death for the 1978 murder of Deana Bowdoin, is scheduled to go before the board on April 28. His execution is scheduled for May 11.
In a Petition for Special Action filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, Dixon’s legal team claims the Board of Executive Clemency is “illegally constituted.”
"Mr. Dixon is entitled to a fair clemency hearing before an impartial Clemency Board,” Dixon's attorney Joshua Spears said in a statement. “To ensure a fair hearing, Arizona law limits the Board to no more than two members from the same professional discipline.
“If the Board proceeds with three of its four members being law enforcement officers, it will violate Mr. Dixon's right to a fair hearing that complies with due process and the plain requirements of Arizona law," Spears said.
The five-member board currently has one vacancy. Of the remaining four members, the lawsuit states that three members — Salvatore Freni, Louis Quinonez and Michael Johnson — are retired law enforcement officers, with a combined total of 85 years of service in law enforcement.
“The only member who has not served directly as a law enforcement officer, Board
Chair Mina Mendez, served as an Assistant Attorney General in the Arizona Attorney General's Office for 6 years,” the petition notes.
The lawsuit alleges the current board composition violates state law, and requests the court “declare the selection, nomination, appointment, and confirmation of Salvatore Freni, Louis Quinonez, and Michael Johnson null and void and order Respondents to constitute a Board of Executive Clemency which complies with state law and state and federal due process.”
Dixon’s attorneys requested to postpone his clemency hearing until the case is resolved, which would necessitate postponing his execution.
A spokesperson for the Board of Executive Clemency said they don’t comment on pending litigation.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Legal challenge: Arizona clemency board stacked with former officers