Maricopa County Attorney backs victim’s family in push for killer’s execution

Mar 16, 2023, 4:15 AM | Updated: Mar 17, 2023, 8:32 am
Aaron Gunches (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and Getty Images Photos)...
Aaron Gunches (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and Getty Images Photos)
(Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and Getty Images Photos)

PHOENIX — Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell and family members of a 2002 murder victim remain diligent in pursuing the death penalty for the confessed killer.

The Arizona Supreme Court issued an execution warrant for Aaron Gunches for April 6, but Gov. Katie Hobbs said the state has no intention of carrying it out.

Gunches pleaded guilty in 2004 to killing Ted Price, his girlfriend’s ex-husband. He was sentenced to death in 2008 and again in 2013 after the Arizona Supreme Court found an error in the first sentencing proceeding.

“This is how long these victims have been hanging in and so they need to have that final resolution to get justice for their loved ones, ” Mitchell told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Gaydos and Chad Show on Tuesday.

“The law says that the sentence should be carried out and if there is going to be a deviation from the sentence that it has to go through a process that includes the Executive Clemency Board. That hasn’t happened, so there’s no provision in Arizona’s law that one person, even the governor, can make a unilateral decision to disregard the sentence.”

Hobbs, a Democrat who previously ordered an in-depth review of Arizona’s death penalty process, has argued that the warrant only “authorizes” the execution but “does not require it.”

The victim’s sister, Karen Price, submitted a petition for special action last week asking the Arizona Supreme Court to direct Hobbs to carry out the warrant.

Mitchell, a Republican, filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the petition on Monday. Republican leaders in the state Legislature joined the legal effort Wednesday night with an amicus curiae brief.

Price said in a statement that the relief her family felt when the court scheduled Gunches’ execution was broken by Hobbs’ announcement.

“Not only has our family been victimized by inmate Gunches and the emotional aftermath of Ted’s murder, we are now being victimized by the governor’s failure to recognize and uphold our constitutional rights to justice and finality,” Price said.

Hobbs’ office has declined to comment on Price’s petition, but the governor put out a statement after the execution warrant was issued earlier this month.

“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 the statement.

Gunches, who isn’t a lawyer, represented himself in November when he asked the Supreme Court to issue his execution warrant so, he said, that justice could be served and the victims could get closure. In Republican Mark Brnovich’s last month as attorney general, his office asked the court for a warrant to execute Gunches.

But Gunches then withdrew his request in early January, and newly elected Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes later asked for the execution warrant to be withdrawn.

The state Supreme Court rejected Mayes’ request, saying it must grant an execution warrant if certain appellate proceedings have concluded — and that those requirements were met in Gunches’ case.

In yet another reversal, Gunches said in a filing a week ago that he still wants to be executed and asked to be transferred to Texas because “the law is still followed and inmates can still get their sentences carried out” there.

Arizona’s highest court has since denied Gunches’ request to transfer to Texas.

“The bottom line in this situation is that a warrant of execution has been issued by the Arizona Supreme Court, this individual has exhausted his appeals, both federally and in the state, and the law requires that the execution be carried out,” Mitchell said.

Arizona, which currently has 110 prisoners on death row, carried out three executions last year after a nearly eight-year hiatus that was brought on by criticism that a 2014 execution was botched and because of difficulties obtaining execution drugs.

Since resuming executions, the state has been criticized for taking too long to insert an IV for lethal injection into a condemned prisoner’s body in early May and for denying the Arizona Republic newspaper’s request to witness the last three executions.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 

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Maricopa County Attorney backs victim’s family in push for killer’s execution