Greek Orthodox convert executed in Arizona for murder of 8-year-old girl

frank atwood greek orthodox convert

A Greek Orthodox convert convicted in the 1984 killing of an 8-year-old girl was executed Wednesday in Arizona's second execution since officials started carrying out the death penalty in May after a near eight-year hiatus.

Frank Atwood, who pleaded his innocence right until his final day, died by lethal injection at the state prison in Florence for his murder conviction in the killing of Vicki Lynne Hoskinson, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a statement.

Vicki went missing after leaving her home in Tucson to drop a birthday card in a nearby mailbox in September 1984. Her body was found in the desert in April 1985.

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Atwood's execution Wednesday morning after rejecting a final appeal by his lawyers. He died at 10:16 a.m., Brnovich said.

On Tuesday, the state Department of Corrections allowed Atwood, who converted to the Greek Orthodox Church in prison, to be visited by religious advisers, Atwood's attorney Joseph Perkovich told the Arizona Republic.

frank atwood greek orthodox convert

Atwood was accompanied through the process of being prepared for the lethal injection by a priest, witnesses to the execution said at a news conference after the execution. He had claimed innocence, but did not address the killing with his last words.

The witnesses said he thanked the priest for "coming today and shepherding me into the faith" and added: "I pray the Lord will have mercy on all of us and that the Lord will have mercy on me."

Bud Foster, a journalist for CBS affiliate KOLD-TV who has witnessed multiple executions, including Wednesday's, said the process of setting up IVs into Atwood for the lethal injection went smoothly and that "it was probably the most peaceful of any of the executions that I witnessed in the past."

Medical personnel preparing Atwood for the execution initially could not locate a vein in Atwood's right arm to put in an IV, but inserted it in his right hand at Atwood's suggestion, said Harry Brean, an Arizona Daily Star reporter who also served as an execution witness.

The girl's mother, Debbie Carlson, was also a witness to the execution and told reporters after Atwood died that "Vicki was a vibrant little girl with an infectious laugh and a smile that would melt your heart."

Carlson added: "Her royal blue eyes reflected an old soul of wisdom, and her freckled nose was unique and we are blessed to see it in our grandchildren today. Vicki was a feisty little one that always kept you on your toes and will forever be known as Dennis the menace, giggling all the way."

Judges in recent weeks rebuffed attempts by Atwood's lawyers to have the execution delayed.

In the final weeks of Atwood's life, his attorneys tried unsuccessfully to make new arguments in a bid to overturn his death sentence, saying they discovered an FBI memo describing an anonymous caller claiming to have seen the girl in a vehicle not associated with Atwood, but which could be linked to a woman.

Perkovich said in a statement that his client's execution doesn't resolve what he said were unanswered questions about the case.

"The state of Arizona executed Frank Atwood despite lingering doubts about his guilt," Perkovich said. "The case against Frank was purely circumstantial and significant evidence pointed to another suspect."

Atwood's lawyers also argued that his degenerative spinal condition would make it excruciatingly painful for him to be strapped on his back to a gurney, where inmates lie as they receive lethal injections. The lawyers also questioned whether 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. Atwood didn't complain about back pain during the process to prepare him for the lethal injection, Brean said.

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's killing in 1987.

Judges have rejected that legal argument in the past.

Authorities have said Atwood kidnapped Vicki, whose remains were discovered in the desert northwest of Tucson. Experts could not determine the cause of death from the remains, according to court records.

Atwood is the second Arizona inmate to be put to death in less than a month. The execution of Clarence Dixon last month 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.

Death penalty opponents worry that Arizona will now start executing a steady stream of inmates who have languished on death row, but state officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on their future execution plans. No other executions have been scheduled so far in Arizona, which has 111 inmates on death row.

Arizona also has a gas chamber and inmates are allowed to choose between that and lethal injection, but Atwood declined, leaving him to die by lethal injection, the state's default execution method.

Path to Orthodoxy

A Protestant girl, Rachel, had attended Frank's entire trial and believed in his innocence. She contacted him in order to support him and strengthen his faith in Christ.

Through this communication, feelings developed between them and in 1991 they got married in prison.

In 1998, Frank discovered through a book the existence of the monk Athanasios (now Metropolitan of Limassol) who was then abbot of the Machaira Monastery.

After the correspondence they had, Father Athanasios sent him several books on the Orthodox faith. At the same time he brought him in contact with Saint Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery in Arizona.

Since then, the abbot Paisios visited him regularly and helped him to follow the life of an imprisoned ascetic, while at the same time he baptised him in 2000 and gave him the name Antonios.

Rachel herself was later baptized in 2007 and renamed Sarah.

Antonios had frequent correspondence with the Metropolitan of Limassol Athanasios and the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos.

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