Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs says her government will not carry out the execution of a man convicted of murder despite a warrant from the state’s highest court.
Hobbs’ March 3 announcement regarding the scheduled execution of Aaron Gunches is part of her efforts to review the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, & Reentry and its execution procedures.
“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, per AZCentral.
Gunches was convicted of the 2002 murder of Ted Price, who had previously been married to Gunches’ then-girlfriend. Gunches kidnapped Price and took him to a remote part of the desert off Beeline Highway, where he shot the victim multiple times.
Price’s body was discovered in the desert.
Gunches was pulled over near the California border in 2003 and shot at an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer twice. A bullet casing at the scene was matched to casings found near Price’s body.
Gunches pleaded guilty to both the kidnapping and murder of Price, as well as the attempted murder of the officer who was wearing a bullet-proof vest that caught the bullet and survived.
Gunches and Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes both asked the Supreme Court in January to withdraw the execution warrant.
Gunches initially filed on Nov. 25, 2022 for a death warrant. In January, he filed a motion to withdraw his initial request after he learned the state’s new attorney general intended to pause executions. He also said three other Arizona executions – involving Clarence Dixon, Frank Atwood, and Murray Hooper – were done in a manner akin to “torture,” per Fox 10 Phoenix.
“My predecessor’s administration sought a warrant of execution for Mr. Gunches after he initiated the proceedings himself. These circumstances have now changed,” said Mayes on Jan. 20, who was preceded by Mark Brnovich.
“However, that is not the only reason I am now requesting the previous motion be withdrawn,” she added. “A thorough review of Arizona’s protocols and processes governing capital punishment is needed. I applaud Governor Hobbs for establishing a Death Penalty Independent Review Commissioner to begin that process.”
Hobbs signed an executive order in January that initiated an independent review of executions, including “the State’s procurement of lethal injection drug,” “the State’s procurement of gas chamber chemicals,” as well as the “procedures and protocols for conducting an execution by gas chamber and by lethal injection, including but not limited to setting lines for a lethal injection, transparency and media access, access to legal counsel for the inmate, and contingency planning.”
“The Commissioner shall issue a final report to the Governor and Attorney General that includes recommendations on improving the transparency, accountability, and safety of the execution process,” wrote Hobbs in the order.
There are 110 people on death row in Arizona.