The state of Arizona executed Frank Atwood by lethal injection on Wednesday at the state prison in Florence. Atwood, 66, was sentenced in 1987 for the kidnapping and murder of an 8-year-old girl in Pima County, Vicki Lynne Hoskinson.
Atwood was the the second man put to death by the state after the botched 2014 execution of Joseph Wood led to court action that resulted in a seven-year moratorium.
“Today marks final justice for our daughter Vicki Lynne,” Debbie Carlson, Vicki’s mother, said during a press briefing after the execution. “Our family has waited 37 years, eight months and 22 days for this day to come.”
“Vicki was a vibrant little girl with an infectious laugh and a smile that would melt your heart,” she continued while choking back tears.
Carlson spoke about how much her daughter loved Spaghetti O’s and playing with Barbies. She imagined her daughter would’ve been a University of Arizona softball player and described her as a “fierce competitor.”
“Vicki, I want you to be free, little one,” Carlson said. “Rest easy, our precious little girl, may your spirit soar as it continues to live with us, in us and through us forever.”
Atwood’s attorney, Joseph Perkovich, said he “faced this process with stoic dignity and thoughtfulness for those whom he would leave behind.”
Atwood calm, witnesses say
The execution team began the process of preparing for execution shortly before 9:40 am, which took about 30 minutes, according to Arizona Department of Corrections Deputy Director Frank Strada.
Atwood was then sedated at 10:10 am and pronounced dead at 10:16 am, Strada and three media witnesses said.
“Thank you, precious Father (Paisios), for coming today and shepherding me into the faith. I want to thank my beautiful wife who has loved me with everything she has,” Atwood said before dying, according to Strada. “I want to thank my friends and legal team and, most of all, Jesus Christ through this unfair judicial process that led to my salvation. I pray the Lord will have mercy on all of us and that the Lord will have mercy on me. ”
The media witnesses — Bud Foster of KOLD News 13, Lupita Murillo of News 4 and Henry Breen of the Arizona Daily Star, all based in Tucson — said they were among about 40 people who watched Atwood die.
The Republic’s Jimmy Jenkins also attended the execution as a witness, but not a media witness.
Background:Arizona violates journalists’ rights to witness executions, attorney says
Carlson and other members of her family were in attendance along with Atwood’s wife, Rachel Atwood. Attorney General Mark Brnovich also arrived “at the last minute,” Murillo said.
Witnesses said they saw Atwood, who was in a wheelchair due to a spinal condition, brought into the execution chamber, restrained to a gurney and inserted with IVs. To accommodate any pain due to his spinal condition, a wedge-shaped pillow was placed behind Atwood’s head.
Atwood did not complain about any back pain but at one point said the left hand restraint was digging into his arm, after which it was adjusted, Breen said.
Foster said there didn’t appear to be any issues with the IVs, as there had been during Clarence Dixon’s execution, and that they were able to find his veins quickly. Breen, however, said the execution team couldn’t insert the needle in his right arm and ultimately put it in Atwood’s right hand, at his suggestion, saying Atwood was “almost helpful.”
Perkovich, Atwood’s attorney, said the IV team “lurched immediately to gratuitously cut into his (Atwood’s) groin to set an IV line” rather than insert it into his right hand. Atwood, he said, “gently” advised them to use his right hand.
Several times during the process, Atwood smiled at his wife, Foster said. She was crying and sniffling through the entire execution, Breen said, adding that “it was pretty much the only sound in the witness room.”
For the first time in the state’s history, Atwood was also joined by a spiritual adviser, Father Paisios, Abbot of the St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence. Paisios laid his hands on Atwood as he was being executed, Breen said. They both wore a black religious head covering known as a skoufo. Paisios also held a red vestment called an epitrachelion and medallion on top of Atwood’s head, witnesses said.
Witnesses said Atwood did not appear to be in any pain. Instead, he appeared calm and seemed to accept his fate, though he did not apologize or acknowledge Vicki’s family.
“He just took a couple of breaths and at one point it was like he was snoring,” Murillo said, describing Atwood’s final moments. “Then he closed his eyes and then that was it, it was very peaceful.”
“This has by far been the most calm,” Murillo said, noting she’d witnessed several other executions. “There wasn’t any jerky movements on his part like I’ve seen in the past.”
Execution draws supporters, protesters outside prison
A few dozen protesters and counterprotesters gathered outside the Florence state prison just before 10 am, when Atwood was scheduled to be executed.
Some people from the group were part of Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona, an organization that aims to raise awareness about death penalty issues and seeks to abolish it.
Others in attendance said they were friends and neighbors of Vicki, and wanted to show her support.
Jayne Sabo recalled going to the same school as Vicki when she was 8 years old. When she first heard of Vicki’s disappearance, she said she and her friends were scared and wanted her to be found.
“We couldn’t ride our bikes like we used to,” Sabo said.
Sabo vowed to never speak of Atwood again after he was executed.
“After today, it is Vicki Lynne and her family and who she was and no other evil name attached,” Sabo said.
Stacy Davis, who has been friends with the Hoskinson family since she went to school with Vicki’s sister, said her presence at the prison was about representing Vicki’s family.
“It will be a part of closure for my childhood,” Davis said, adding that her death “took away our innocence … it changed all of us. I was terrified and we can’t get that back.”
Atwood was the 39th person to be executed by the state of Arizona, and second person executed since /executions restarted this year after a seven-year moratorium.
Clarence Dixon was executed on May 11 for the 1978 murder of Deana Bowdoin, a 21-year-old senior at Arizona State University. The Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona also protested his execution.
The United States Supreme Court on Wednesday morning denied Atwood’s request for a stay of execution. The decision was announced about 45 minutes before his scheduled execution.
Attorneys for Atwood filed numerous legal challenges alleging both choices for the method of execution — lethal injection or the gas chamber — were unconstitutional, and would cause Atwood an excruciating amount of pain.
Death row updates:Republic reporters cover the Atwood execution from the Florence prison
Atwood used a wheelchair and suffered from a spinal condition, and his attorneys said restraining him to a gurney would exacerbate the condition and result in unbearable pain.
The state responded to those concerned by agreeing to provide a device that would brace Atwood while on the gurney.
While Atwood proposed the use of nitrogen gas as his preferred method of execution, the courts ruled the Arizona Department of Correction’s protocols using cyanide were acceptable, and said Atwood did not have that choice.
A look at his victim:Who was Vicki Lynne Hoskinson, victim of Arizona death row inmate Frank Atwood?
Agreement over spiritual adviser’s access during execution
Atwood was successful in getting the department to change its policy regarding the presence of spiritual advisers. Atwood converted to become Greek Orthodox while in prison.
His spiritual adviser, Father Paisios, told the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency in May that he was certain Atwood had experienced a “complete transformation of life,” and such a conversion cannot be feigned.
Paisios said the authenticity of Atwood’s faith was to a degree that he had not seen among hundreds of others who had come to him. He said Atwood “unfailingly followed my instructions” and kept to a daily routine of prayer.
For subscribers: As Arizona resumes the death penalty, a former executioner tells his story
Department of Corrections execution protocols allowed for a spiritual adviser or representative to speak with the prisoner in the death chamber from another room via microphone, but did not allow them to be in the same room as the prisoner.
In a legal complaint, Atwood’s attorneys said the protocols violated his rights under the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
In response, the Department of Corrections came to an agreement with Atwood and the district court issued a preliminary injunction specifying special accommodations for his religious exercise requests.
Atwood’s attorney, Joseph Perkovich, said the department complied with the injunction, and allowed religious advisers to visit Atwood on Tuesday morning to perform a ceremony, known as a tonsure, involving cutting a lock of his hair and making Atwood a monk.
The injunction provided for special accommodations during the execution as well. Atwood’s spiritual adviser was allowed to accompany him to the execution chamber and lay his hands on him.
The injunction states: “ADCRR may require Plaintiff’s spiritual advisor to comply with all lawful directives of ADCRR personnel to: (a) touch Plaintiff only on the head; (b) stand in a location that gives the medical team an unobstructed view of the IV lines; (c) terminate touching Plaintiff during critical points in the execution process, such as during insertion of the IV line; and (d) immediately leave the lethal injection chamber upon ADCRR personnel determining that he has failed to comply with any of these requirements .”
Have a news tip on Arizona prisons? Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 812-243-5582. Follow him on Twitter @JimmyJenkins.
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