Maricopa County Attorney files motion to resume executions in Arizona

Jun 5, 2024, 2:46 PM

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell wants to resume executions in the state. (Photo by Gabriel...

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell wants to resume executions in the state. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk-Pool/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gabriella Demczuk-Pool/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell is putting pressure on the resumption of executions in Arizona, filing a motion Wednesday for a convicted murderer to be put to death.

The motion, filed with the Arizona Supreme Court, asks for an eventual warrant of execution for Aaron Brian Gunches, who was convicted of killing Ted Price in 2002. The motion asks for the state Supreme Court to set a briefing schedule in expectation of a request for a new warrant execution.

“For almost 22 years, Ted Price’s family has been waiting for justice and closure,” Mitchell, a Republican, said in a press release. “They’re not willing to wait any longer and neither am I.”

Democrat Attorney General Kris Mayes, in a statement in response to Mitchell’s motion, said the county attorney is not legally able to seek a warrant of execution.

“Even though she knows what she is doing has no legal merit, County Attorney Mitchell seeks to circumvent the authority of the Attorney General’s office and to use victims as pawns for her own political gain,” Mayes said.

Why isn’t Arizona carrying out executions?

It’s uncommon for county attorneys to seek a death warrant, but Mitchell said it was done for “protecting [victims’] constitutional rights to a prompt and final conclusion to this case.”

Democratic Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs and Mayes temporarily shut down executions in January 2023 to review protocols. Mitchell said that report could be complete in early 2025, more than a year after she said it was promised.

Mayes said at the time she wouldn’t initiate the execution process until the independent investigation of the state’s death penalty process ordered by Hobbs was completed.

She echoed that statement Wednesday and sent a letter to Mitchell on May 16 saying she would seek execution warrants “no later than the first quarter of 2025.”

“I have insisted the independent review be finished in a timely manner so that when a warrant is ultimately issued by my office, victims will have certainty that it will be carried out,” Mayes said.

What did convicted murderer Aaron Gunches do?

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

In November 2022, Gunches asked the Arizona Supreme Court to issue a death warrant in his own case, saying he wanted justice to “be lawfully served and give closure to the victim’s family.” In December 2022, then-Attorney General Mark Brnovich requested a warrant of execution.

Mayes asked the state Supreme Court to withdraw Brnovich’s request, but the court ruled it was legally obligated to grant the warrant because Gunches had exhausted his appeals.

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Maricopa County Attorney files motion to resume executions in Arizona