Arizona Governor Won’t Proceed With Execution of Convicted Murderer

Arizona Governor Won’t Proceed With Execution of Convicted Murderer
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, then a candidate, attends a roundtable in Phoenix, Ariz., on Oct. 27, 2022. (Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber
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The governor of Arizona on March 3 said an execution of a convicted murderer will not take place, despite an order from the state’s highest court.

“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,” Arizona Democrat Gov. Katie Hobbs said in a statement to news outlets.

The Arizona Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that state law barred it from not issuing a warrant of execution once certain conditions are met and that the conditions had been met in the case of Aaron Gunches.

Gunches, convicted of murdering Ted Price, his girlfriend’s former husband, in 2002, asked the court to issue a warrant in late 2022, "so his sentence of death may be carried out immediately. ... so that justice may be lawfully served and give closure to the Victims family.” Then-Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, filed in support.

But the new top law enforcement official in the state, Democrat Attorney General Kris Mayes, asked to withdraw the case, citing how Gunches had changed his mind.

“The State would not have moved for a warrant of execution at this time if Gunches had not asked to be executed. And on that front, circumstances have now changed,” Mayes said.

Hobbs, shortly after entering office, ordered a review of Arizona’s execution protocols and has since appointed retired U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan to lead the review.

No executions should take place while the review is taking place, Mayes has argued in court.

Forced to Issue Warrant

Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel said in the new ruling that the court was forced to issue the warrant after a defendant’s conviction and sentences were affirmed on appeal, post-conviction proceedings have been completed, and the state has notified the court that the conditions are met.

Not granting a warrant would result in the court “inappropriately involving itself in a determination assigned to the executive branch, contrary to this Court’s statutory role to provide only review and authorization,” Brutinel wrote. He denied the requests from Gunches and Mayes and granted the original motion for a warrant, scheduling the execution for April 6.

Hobbs said that the warrant “authorizes an execution and does not require it,” enabling her to not carry out the execution.

“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,” she added.

The timeline for the review isn’t clear. Duncan has been directed to issue a report on the review once it’s finished.

In a statement to the Associated Press, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office disagreed with the governor.

The office, which prosecuted Gunches, said Hobbs “has a constitutional and statutory responsibility to carry out all sentences, including the execution of Aaron Gunches.”

Pauses

Arizona has paused executions before.

Lethal injections in the state began in 1993 after voters approved a state constitutional amendment to make it the method of execution. Twenty people were executed from 1993 to 2009.

One pause was implemented in late 2000 and remained in place until May 2007. Another pause happened afterwards with executions not resuming until October 2010. Thirteen people were executed between 2010 and 2013.

Executions were halted in 2014 after the execution of Joseph Wood, using a drug combination that had not been used in the state before. Mayes has described Wood’s execution as “botched.”

Under then-Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, Arizona started executions again in 2022. Three executions took place that year.

The new administration says the history of lethal injections in Arizona and in other states supports pausing executions again while the review takes place. The review will include looking at how the state procures drugs for lethal injections, the procedures for conducting an execution, and how well staff members are trained.

Mayes noted that other states have recently undertaken similar reviews, including Tennessee, adding in one recent filing that she sees “a heightened need to ensure any capital sentence is carried out constitutionally, legally, humanely, and with transparency.”

“To that end, no further warrants of execution will be sought at this time, and a detailed review of the administration of capital punishment in Arizona will be conducted,” she wrote.

Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news. Contact Zachary at [email protected]
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