Arizona AG pauses execution warrants after Hobbs orders death penalty review

Jan 20, 2023, 12:49 PM | Updated: 2:32 pm
FILE - This photo shows the gurney in the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in M...

FILE - This photo shows the gurney in the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., on Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

PHOENIX — Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes said the state won’t ask for execution warrants while a review of the death penalty process ordered by Gov. Katie Hobbs on Friday is ongoing.

“My office will also pause all requests for warrants of execution while the review process is pending,” Mayes tweeted after Hobbs issued an executive order to establish a Death Penalty Independent Review Commissioner.

The commissioner will be tasked with thoroughly reviewing the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry’s execution protocols and issuing a report with recommendations for improvements.

The Democratic governor didn’t say who she was appointing to the new role.

According to the executive order, the appointee “shall not be currently or previously employed with the ADCRR and shall have experience with death penalty or lethal injection issues.”

The move comes three days after Hobbs appointed Ryan Thornell as the corrections department’s director.

“Arizona has a history of mismanaged executions that have resulted in serious questions and concerns about ADCRR’s execution protocols and lack of transparency,” Hobbs said in a press release.

“I’m confident that under Director Thornell, ADCRR will take this executive action seriously.”

After Friday’s executive order was issued, Mayes announced that she filed a motion with the Arizona Supreme Court to withdraw a previous motion for a warrant of execution of Aaron Brian Gunches.

“My predecessor’s administration sought a warrant of execution for Mr. Gunches after he initiated the proceedings himself. These circumstances have now changed,” Mayes, a Democrat, said in a press release.

“However, that is not the only reason I am now requesting the previous motion be withdrawn. A thorough review of Arizona’s protocols and processes governing capital punishment is needed.”

Earlier this month, Gunches withdrew his request to be executed, citing three recent executions that were “carried out in a manner that amounts to torture” in a letter to the state Supreme Court.

Arizona has 110 inmates on death row after carrying out three executions in 2022, the first in the state in nearly eight years.

The hiatus was in response to a botched execution in 2014. The state later had difficulties obtaining execution drugs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Arizona AG pauses execution warrants after Hobbs orders death penalty review