10 March 2023 :
(March 3, 2023) - Arizona governor won't proceed with execution set by court
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs vowed Friday that her administration won't carry out an execution even though the state Supreme Court scheduled it over the objections of the state’s new attorney general.
The Democratic governor’s promise not to execute Aaron Gunches on April 6 in a 2002 killing came a day after the state Supreme Court said it must grant an execution warrant if certain appellate proceedings have concluded — and that those requirements were met in Gunches’ case.
Last week, Hobbs appointed retired U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan to examine the state’s procurement of lethal injection drugs and other death penalty protocols due to the state’s history of mismanaging executions. Upon completion of the review, the Commissioner will issue a final report to the Governor and Attorney General that includes recommendations on improving the transparency, accountability, and safety of the execution process in Arizona.
“Under my administration, an execution will not occur until the people of Arizona can have confidence that the state is not violating the law in carrying out the gravest of penalties,” Hobbs said in a statement Friday.
While Hobbs didn’t declare a moratorium on the death penalty, Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes said she will not seek court orders to execute prisoners while the review is underway.
Mayes, a Democrat who took office in January, tried to withdraw a request by her Republican predecessor, Mark Brnovich, for a warrant to Gunches. The court declined to withdraw the request on Thursday.
The court said Hobbs' review “does not constitute good cause for refraining from issuing the warrant.”
Mayes’ office declined to comment on Hobbs’ promise not to carry out the execution next month.
Hobbs maintains that while the court authorized Gunches’ execution, its order doesn’t require the state to carry it out.
Aaron Gunches was sentenced to death in February 2008 for the 2002 murder of Ted Price, a former longtime boyfriend of his girlfriend. Gunches pled guilty to kidnapping and 1st-degree murder in 2004, and he has consistently waived his right to counsel, mitigation and post-conviction litigation.
Gunches had filed a motion in November asking the Arizona Supreme Court to issue a death warrant, "so that justice may be lawfully served and give closure to the victim's family."
Former Attorney General Mark Brnovich responded with his own request for Gunches' execution warrant.
But Gunches reversed his decision, and in January he asked the state Supreme Court to withdraw his request to be executed, citing the election of new Attorney General Kris Mayes as well as 3 recent executions that Gunches said were "carried out in a manner that amounts to torture."
Later in January, Gov. Katie Hobbs announced the establishment of a Death Penalty Independent Review Commissioner, and appointed retired Magistrate Judge David Duncan to review Arizona's execution process.
Also last month, Mayes filed to withdraw the motion for Gunches' death warrant, effectively pausing executions in Arizona.
The justices acknowledged Hobbs' executive order, but said, "the review itself does not demonstrate the state’s inability to lawfully carry out the execution."