PHOENIX (AP) — Shortly after the man who killed her sister 44 years ago was executed, Leslie James stepped up to a podium at the Arizona state prison complex in Florence and tearfully told the world all that Clarence Dixon had taken.
James, the older sister and lone sibling of Dixon's victim, spoke about the young woman who was poised to leave college for what was certain to be a bright future. Behind her was a poster-size photo of Deana Bowdoin, smiling as she held a bouquet of red roses.
Dixon took that smile away, raping and strangling the 21-year-old on Jan. 7, 1978, in her apartment near Arizona State University's main campus in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe. Bowdoin was a semester away from graduating.
Dixon died Wednesday in Arizona's first execution in nearly eight years and the nation's sixth this year. At 66 and nearly blind, he had been in prison most of his adult life — first sentenced to life for a 1985 rape of a Northern Arizona University student and then sentenced to death when DNA evidence reexamined by cold case detectives in 2001 inextricably linked him to Bowdoin's rape and murder. He was convicted in 2008.
James noted it took jurors just 17 minutes to return the verdict. Yet it took “way, way, way too long” for justice to be done in the case, she said.
Mainly, she focused on her sister, whom she called kind and hardworking.
“She wrote amazing poetry,” James said. “Older people and dogs really seemed to take a liking to her, and I think that has to say something about her character.”
As a little girl, Bowdoin had an illness that caused her to miss much of a school year. But James said she worked hard to catch up with help from their schoolteacher mother.
By college, she had blossomed into a bright, outgoing young woman. Bowdoin was multi-lingual, and studied abroad in Mexico and Spain. The summer before she was killed, the two sisters spent three months traveling by train across Europe, and she said Deana made friends all along the way.
James, two years older than Deana, said her sister was more personable and friendly than her, “the one who was supposed to have an exciting career, get married and produce grandkids for my mom. But it didn’t work out that way.
“We should have been able to grow old together,” she continued, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.
Dixon's lawyers argued he was too delusional to understand why he was being put to death. They said he been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia on multiple occasions, experienced hallucinations over the past 30 years and should not be executed. Courts repeatedly rejected the appeals.
As the lethal drugs flowed, he again denied killing Bowdoin and blamed the Arizona Supreme Court for not overturning his conviction.
James said that testing of DNA done at the request of Bowdoin's attorneys proved otherwise.
“There was never any doubt that this inmate murdered my sister.”
James also criticized reporters, saying she had seen a shift in recent years away from compassion and acknowledgement of victims' rights to advocacy for violent offenders and what she called political posturing.
But she mainly wanted people to remember her sister.
"I wish you could have known her,” James told the reporters. “I have just one request of you. All my mom ever wanted was for people to remember Deana. Please remember Deana Lynne Bowdoin.”
Bob Christie, The Associated Press