Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs under scrutiny for intent to ignore court order allowing execution
Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs is facing criticism for planning to ignore a court order allowing the execution of Aaron Gunches, the man convicted of murdering Ted Price in November 2002 near Mesa.
Hobbs said nearly two weeks ago that the state would not proceed with Gunches’ execution on April 6 because she was not confident the laws were being followed.
The Democratic governor ordered a review of Arizona’s death penalty protocols in January due to the state’s history of mishandling executions, according to the Associated Press.
Over the past week, attorneys for Maricopa County District Attorney Rachel Mitchell and Karen Price, the victim’s sister, told the Arizona Supreme Court that Hobbs lacked the legal authority to challenge the order.
GOVERNMENT OF ARIZONA HOBBS AGREES NOT TO PROCEED WITH COURT ORDERED EXECUTION
In a statement to the AP, Price said the relief his family felt when the court scheduled Gunches’ execution was dashed by Hobbs’ announcement.
“Not only were our family victims of inmate Gunches and the emotional aftermath of Ted’s murder, but we are now victims of the governor’s failure to recognize and uphold our constitutional rights to justice and finality,” he said. said Price.
Nicholas Klingerman, who represents Mitchell, said no constitutional violations were found with Arizona’s execution protocols, adding that Hobbs cannot refuse to execute warrants of execution.
“Nothing in the Constitution or the laws of Arizona or the warrant gives the governor the discretion to ignore the warrant and grant what is essentially a temporary reprieve of the death penalty,” Klingerman wrote.
In a filing Wednesday, Hobbs’ attorneys said the court should not accept Price’s appeal because the state is not currently ready to carry out an execution in a constitutionally sound manner. The filing also indicates that the correctional service lacks specialized personnel, according to the AP.
Lawyers for Hobbs wrote that the state does not have a contract for a pharmacist to compound the pentobarbital needed for an execution at this time, and corrections officials are unable to identify the former pharmacist. state preparer. It was also noted that a position of director of corrections, essential for the planning of executions, is open.
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Director of Corrections Ryan Thornell said he was unable to find enough documentation to understand key elements of the execution process and instead had to gather information through conversations with employees present at past performances.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Objective Death Penalty Information Centre, said he believed Hobbs had the power to stop the executions if she was concerned about how they were going.
“She has the power to make sure it works properly,” said Dieter, whose group takes no position on the death penalty but is critical of how it is applied.
Dale Baich, a former federal public defender who teaches death penalty law at Arizona State University, told the AP that Hobbs had “the discretion for situations like this, where the governor expressed legitimate concerns because of problems with the drugs (lethal injection), the qualifications of the executioners and the Department of Corrections personnel needed to carry out the executions.”
Mel McDonald, a former U.S. attorney from Arizona who handled two death row cases as a prosecutor, predicted the state Supreme Court would hear the appeal filed by Price’s sister, saying that the dispute presents the court with new legal problems and raises many questions. .
AZ DETAINEE ON DEATH ROW WITHDRAW HIS REQUEST FOR EXECUTION
Gunches was sentenced to death after pleading guilty to the shooting death of Ted Price, his girlfriend’s ex-husband. He appeared in court in November when he asked the Supreme Court to issue his warrant of execution so that “justice can be served and the victims can obtain closure”.
During his last month in office, Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich asked the court for a warrant to execute Gunches, but the inmate later withdrew his request in early January and newly elected Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes asked for the warrant to be withdrawn. .
The state Supreme Court denied Mayes’ request and said a warrant of execution must be granted if certain proceedings were completed – and that was the case in Gunches’ case.
In a filing a week ago, Gunches said he still wanted to be executed and asked to be transferred to Texas because “the law is still obeyed and inmates can still have their sentence served.” Arizona’s highest court denied the request.
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Arizona currently has 110 prisoners on death row. In 2022, the state executed three inmates, ending a nearly eight-year hiatus following a failed attempt in 2014 and difficulties obtaining needed medication.
Since resuming executions, the state has come under fire in May for taking too long to insert an IV for lethal injection into a prisoner’s body. He was also criticized for refusing the Arizona Republic newspaper’s request to witness the last three deaths.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.