Arizona has seen 2 botched executions: Here's what to know about the state's history with capital punishment

A generic photo of a lethal injection facility (Getty)

As Arizona resumes executions following an eight-year pause, a spotlight of sorts is on the state's death penalty system, as well as the history behind it.

The execution of Clarence Dixon on May 11 was the first in the state since an execution in 2014 that some say was botched.

Here's what you should know about the state's history with capital punishment.

When did capital punishment begin in Arizona?

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, capital punishment in Arizona dates back to at least 1865, when Dolores Moore became the first person whose execution was recorded in an area we now know as the State of Arizona.

According to the DPIC, Moore was hung for murder.

What methods have the state used to execute inmates?

According to the website of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry, Arizona has executed people by hanging, lethal gas, and lethal injection since 1910.

ADCRR's website states that Arizona executed death row inmates by hanging until 1931, and in 1934, the state began executing death row inmates via lethal gas. Lethal injection was approved by voters in the November 1992 election.

Execution by lethal gas?

According to ADCRR's website, Arizona first started executing death row inmates by lethal gas in 1934. Prior to that, from at least 1910 to 1931, the state executed people via hanging.

In AZDRR's list of executions, it was noted that the most recent inmate to have been executed by lethal gas was Walter Burnhart LaGrand.

According to a 2021 article on the state's refurbishment of its gas chambers, LaGrand, along with his brother, were executed for killing a bank manager in southern Arizona in 1982. LaGrand's brother, Karl, later chose to be executed via lethal injection, which, according to ADCRR, was approved by Arizona voters in 1992.

Witness reportedly said it took more than 10 minutes of gasping and convulsing before LaGrand died. The case drew widespread criticism in Germany, which has no death penalty, and prompted repeated diplomatic protests.

17 death row prisoners convicted before the year 1992 can choose between the gas chamber or lethal injection. However, the ACLU announced on Feb. 15, 2022 that they have filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix to prevent ADCRR from performing executions via lethal gas.

"Under no circumstances should the same method of execution used to murder over one million people, including Jews, during the Holocaust be used in the execution of people on death row," said ACLU of Arizona senior staff attorney Jared Keenan, in the statement. 

Where are Arizona's death rows located at?

Officials with the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry state that since 1910, executions have been carried at the Florence State Prison, and a male death row is located in the prison's central unit.

Besides Florence State Prison, another male death row is located at Arizona State Prison Complex-Eyman, and a female death row is located at Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville.

You said the state has had two botched executions…?

Besides the execution of Joseph Wood in 2014, which some claim was botched, the state also saw another botched execution in 1930, when a woman named Eva Dugan was executed.

What is a botched execution?

The Death Penalty Information Center, which describes itself as a ‘national non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment,’ describes botched executions as 'a breakdown in, or departure from, the "protocol" for a particular method of execution,' citing a book written by a professor with Amherst College.

What happened with Arizona's botched executions?

Eva Dugan

According to a report by the Arizona Daily Star in 1930, Dugan was executed for murdering a rancher in the Tucson area. She is reportedly the only woman ever to be executed by the State of Arizona.

The description of Dugan's execution was graphic, but according to an Arizona Daily Star article, Dugan was completely decapitated during the execution.

"Four of the female witnesses to the hanging reportedly fainted on the spot," read a portion of the article.

In another article of the execution that was published by Globe-based Arizona Silver Belt, it was described that a prison physician declared Dugan dead almost immediately following the decapitation, and the gallows room was immediately cleared of witnesses.

Shortly after Dugan was executed, Arizona switched to lethal gas as its method of execution.

Joseph Wood

joseph wood

Joseph Wood (Courtesy: Arizona Department of Corrections)

Lawyers for Joseph Wood claim his execution in 2014 was botched.

According to ADCRR's website, Wood shot and killed a 55-year-old man and his 29-year-old ex-girlfriend in 1989.

Wood's lawyers claim his execution was botched. FOX 10's Troy Hayden, who witnessed Wood's execution, said Wood moved on the table and appeared to gulp for air for almost two hours.

"There’s always this focus on, oh, the defendants and whether they feel pain or suffering, and yet, no one talks about: what about the victims?" said Attorney General Mark Brnovich, in a report Hayden filed. "You mentioned the last execution, I mean, that defendant had brutally killed someone’s father right in front of her. There was no doubt as to his guilt or innocence. He was a degenerate killer. He didn’t give anyone a chance."

How many people are on Arizona's death row?

According to figures from ADCRR's website, 113 prisoners are on Arizona's death row. However, that figure includes Clarance Dixon, who was executed on May 11, 2022.

Of those on death row, an overwhelming majority of them (109) are men, with only three women: Wendi Andriano, Shawna Forde, and Sammantha Uriarte.

Read More: Only 3 women are on Arizona’s death row: Who are they and what were they sentenced to death for?

Were there times when Arizona did not have the death penalty?

There were a number of times in history when Arizona either had no death penalty, or death penalty provisions that were declared to be unconstitutional.

According to the ADCRR, the state eliminated the death penalty as punishment for those convicted of first-degree murder in 1916, as a result of a referendum. However, the death penalty was restored in 1918.

ADCRR officials also state that no executions were performed in Arizona between 1962 and 1992, due to a number of court rulings regarding the death penalty, and other technical provisions within.

What do opinion polls say in regards to the death penalty?

Figures from the Gallup Poll show Americans are in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder, with the most recent poll, taken in October 2021, showing that 54% of those surveyed are in favor. In addition, a Gallup Poll in May 2021 found that 55% of those surveyed believe that the death penalty is morally acceptable.

However, figures from an October 2019 Gallup Poll found that when people can choose between the death penalty and life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for murder, 60% find life imprisonment to be a better penalty for murder.