Katie Hobbs, Governor of Arizona, intervenes; scheduled execution unlikely next week

PHOENIX — A vow by the Arizona governor not to carry out any executions amid lingering questions about the rights of those on death row appears to have halted an execution scheduled for next week, though it has not been officially called off.

Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs recently won a key battle when the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that state law did not require her to carry out the scheduled execution of Aaron Gunches on April 6, even if its execution date has not been cancelled.

Hobbs vowed that no prisoner will be executed until there is certainty that the state is not violating constitutional rights when applying the death penalty.

Gunches was to receive a lethal injection for the 2002 murder of Ted Price, who was his girlfriend’s ex-husband. He had pleaded guilty to one charge of murder in the shooting death near Mesa, Arizona.

Price’s sister, Karen Price, had tried unsuccessfully to get the court to order Hobbs to carry out the execution. Price then requested a stay of execution. In making the seemingly contradictory decision, Karen Price’s attorney expressed concern that the state could let the court order allowing Gunches’ execution expire before the factual issues in Karen Price’s litigation could be resolved. .

The governor’s office said Monday it does not expect the execution to be carried out next week. “As we have explained in our previous statements and legal filings, the state does not expect to be able to carry out an execution by April 6,” the governor’s office said in a statement. . Hobbs previously appointed a retired federal magistrate to review Arizona’s supply of lethal injection drugs and other death penalty protocols due to the state’s history of mishandling executions.

Colleen Clase, attorney for Karen Price, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Monday.

“The governor has made it clear that the state is not ready to proceed with the scheduled execution,” said Dale Baich, a former federal public defender who teaches death penalty law at Arizona State University. “I would expect that not to happen (next week).” Lawyers for Hobbs said the state lacked the specialized personnel to carry out an execution, was unable to find an intravenous team to perform the lethal injection and did not currently have a contract with a pharmacist to prepare the pentobarbital needed for an execution. . They also said a senior corrections post, key to planning executions, remains vacant. Certain requirements for carrying out executions under the state’s death penalty protocol were not met in Gunches’s case.

The Department of Corrections said the execution warrant issued by the state Supreme Court was not read to Gunches. And Gunches was not transferred to a special “death watch” cell where he would be watched 24 hours a day and remain until his execution.

In a statement Monday, the agency said its death penalty protocols “have been put on hold while we conduct our systemic review of the execution process and complete the steps necessary to demonstrate efficiency and competence in established protocols”.

Arizona, which currently has 110 prisoners on death row, carried out three executions last year. This followed a nearly eight-year hiatus sparked by criticism that a 2014 execution was botched and due to difficulties obtaining execution drugs. Since then, the state has been criticized for taking too long to insert an IV for lethal injection into the body of a convicted prisoner and for denying the Arizona Republic permission to witness all three executions. .

Gunches, who is not a lawyer, represented himself in November when he asked the Supreme Court to issue his warrant of execution so that, he said, justice could be done and the families of the victims can be closed. During his last month in office, Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich 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 then called for the warrant to be withdrawn.

The state Supreme Court denied Mayes’ request, saying it must issue a warrant of execution if certain appeals proceedings are completed and those requirements are met in Gunches’ case.

Gunches again changed course, now saying he wanted to be executed and asked to be transferred to Texas, where, he wrote, “inmates can still have their sentence served.” The Arizona High Court denied the transfer.

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