Arizona Supreme Court says Hobbs not required to carry out execution warrant
Mar 22, 2023, 7:43 PM | Updated: Mar 23, 2023, 12:48 pm
(Facebook/Arizona Supreme Court and Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry Photos)
PHOENIX — The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that Gov. Katie Hobbs is not obligated to carry out an execution warrant for Aaron Gunches, who was scheduled to be executed next month.
The court ruling said its role is to “issue a warrant of execution that authorizes the director of the state department of corrections to carry out the execution,” but that Hobbs is not compelled to act on the warrant.
The ruling follows weeks of uncertainty, as Hobbs previously said she would not order the execution of Gunches, which was issued in early March by the state’s highest court.
While the court noted that the governor is obligated to protect victims’ rights to justice and due process, it also said there were “mixed questions of law and fact that are not properly before us.”
“The Arizona Supreme Court decision yesterday affirms our position, and allows the Arizona Department of Corrections to ensure any execution conducted under this administration will be done lawfully and humanely,” Hobbs said in a statement Thursday.
“Being adequately staffed and prepared to carry out an execution is an urgent and critical duty ADCRR is tasked with, and the Death Penalty Independent Review Commissioner should complete his work before the state proceeds in carrying out the gravest of penalties.”
Hobbs ordered a review of the death penalty process on Jan. 20, less than three weeks after taking office, because of the state’s history of executions that were allegedly mishandled.
Democrat Attorney General Kris Mayes followed suit, and pledged to not seek execution warrants until the review was completed. Mayes had also asked the Supreme Court to withdraw a request by her Republican predecessor for a warrant to execute Gunches.
A lawyer for Karen Price, whose brother was the victim in Gunches’ case, filed a motion asking the Arizona Supreme Court to order the governor to carry out the execution.
Gunches was scheduled to be executed April 6 for the 2002 murder of Ted Price, his girlfriend’s ex-husband. He plead guilty in 2004 and was sentenced to death in 2008 and again in 2013 after the Arizona Supreme Court found an error in the first sentencing proceeding.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.