FLORENCE, Ariz. - An Arizona man convicted of murder in the 1984 killing of an 8-year-old girl was put to death on June 8 in the state’s second execution since officials resumed carrying out the death penalty in May following a nearly eight-year hiatus.
Frank Atwood, 66, died by lethal injection at the state prison in Florence for his murder conviction in the killing of Vicki Lynne Hoskinson, whose body was found in the desert, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a statement.
Witnesses describe execution
Media witnesses described Wednesday morning's execution as "calm" and "peaceful." Around 40 people witnessed Atwood's death - among them were Arizona's Attorney General Mark Brnovich and several of Vicky Lynn Hoskinson's family members, including both of her parents and siblings.
Atwood also had guests, including his wife and a Greek Orthodox priest.
The priest was in the execution chamber with him, his hands touching Atwood's head during the process. The inmate had converted to the Greek Orthodox religion while on death row.
"His last words were, and I quote, ‘thank you, precious father, for coming today and shepherding me into the faith. I pray the lord have mercy on all of us. I pray the lord have mercy on me,’" said Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry Deputy Director Frank Strada.
Atwood had claimed innocence, but did not address the killing with his last words.
He was pronounced dead at 10:16 a.m. His final meal consisted of salami, mustard, peanut butter, jelly, wheat bread, and tortilla chips.
Witnesses said the process of setting up IVs into Atwood for the injection went smoothly, though medical personnel could not locate a vein for his right arm and put the IV in his right hand, at Atwood’s suggestion. They also said Atwood's final moments looked as if he had simply fallen asleep.
Today was final justice for Vicki Lynn Hoskinson and her family.
"Our family has waited 37 years, 8 months, and 22 days for this day to come," said Hoskinson's mother, Debbie Carlson. "Vicki was a vibrant little girl, with an infectious laugh and smile that would melt your heart."
Hoskinson's family says they are looking forward to closing a painful chapter, and move on.
"Vicki you made a difference," said Carlson. "The lives you saved and the hearts you touched will never be known. I hope you are proud of us and how we carried your legacy."
Atwood marks 2nd execution for Arizona since 2014
Atwood was the second Arizona prisoner to be put to death in less than a month. Authorities have said Atwood kidnapped Vicki, whose remains were discovered in the desert northwest of Tucson nearly seven months after her disappearance. Experts could not determine the cause of death from the remains, according to court records.
The execution of Atwood came after the execution of Clarence Dixon in May, which ended Arizona’s halt to executions that was blamed on the difficulty of obtaining lethal injection drugs and criticism that a 2014 execution in the state was botched.
Dixon was executed on May 11 for his murder conviction in the 1978 killing of Deana Bowdoin, a 21-year-old Arizona State University student.
His execution was criticized by death penalty experts because it took officials about 30 minutes to insert an IV into his body to deliver the lethal drug and 10 minutes after that to die.
They said executions should take seven to 10 minutes from the beginning of the IV insertion process until the moment the prisoner is declared dead.
The execution team first tried and failed to insert an IV into Dixon’s left arm before they were able to connect it in his right arm. They then made an incision in his groin area for another IV line.
Dixon’s execution was the first to be carried out in the state since the July 2014 execution of Joseph Wood, who was given 15 doses of a two-drug combination over nearly two hours.
Wood snorted repeatedly and gasped before he died. His attorney said the execution had been botched.
Protesters gathered outside prison
As the execution took place, death penalty supporters, as well as opponents, gathered outside the prison to protest.
"I was good friends with [Hoskinson's] older sister. Went to school with both of them. The day that it happened, I actually went to their house to help search for her," said a childhood friend of the victim, Brandy Bock.
Bock was in the third grade when Hoskinson disappeared. She stood across the state from the prison where Atwood was executed.
"Today, Vicky gets justice," said Bock. "This is closure that we’ve all needed, especially the family. I mean, this change the way I parented my children. The day that this happens was the day we realized evil existed."
Bock was alongside a small group[ of people showing support for Hoskin, her family, and the organization they started, Love Never Forgets.
Meanwhile, opponents of the death penalty gathered nearby.
"When I was ordained 25 years ago, the Pope said America is becoming a culture of death. Everybody got mad at him. Everybody got kind of a little bit angry at what’s he talking about. Given what has transpired with weapons and violence, one more death is not what we need," said Deacon Bill Dronick.
Dronick, who gathered with a group organized by Death Penalty Action, said the message is that all lives are precious. Meanwhile, members of the group say they do not think the death penalty will serve as a deterrent.
Death penalty opponents worry that Arizona will now start executing a steady stream of prisoners who have languished on death row, but state officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on their future execution plans. No other executions have been scheduled so far in Arizona, which has 111 prisoners on death row, including Atwood.
Atwood's layers tried to have execution delayed
Judges in recent weeks had rebuffed attempts by Atwood’s lawyers to have the execution delayed.
Atwood’s attorneys also told the Supreme Court in court filings that the aggravating factor that made his crime eligible for the death penalty was invalidly applied. He was convicted in 1975 in California for lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 14 and was convicted of Vicki Lynne’s killing in 1987. Judges have rejected that legal argument in the past.
The lawyers also questioned whether the state officials met a requirement for the lethal injection drug’s expiration date to fall after the execution date.
Prosecutors claimed that Atwood was trying to indefinitely postpone his execution through legal maneuvers, saying his pain would be alleviated by propping him with a pillow on the gurney, which has a tilting function.
Vicki Hoskinson (Credit: Debbie Carlson)
Billeaud reported from Phoenix.