Court: Arizona governor not required to carry out execution

Court: Arizona governor not required to carry out execution

PHOENIX (AP) – The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that state law does not require Gov. Katie Hobbs to carry out the April 6 execution of an inmate convicted of murder.

The ruling issued Wednesday marks a legal victory for the newly elected Democratic governor, whose office said the state is not currently prepared to carry out the death penalty. The Supreme Court had set an April execution date for Aaron Gunches, who fatally shot Ted Price near Mesa, Arizona, in 2002.

The order came after Hobbs said executions will not be carried out until Arizonans are confident the state is not violating constitutional rights when it carries out the death penalty.

The governor vowed two weeks ago that she would not carry out the court order while the state reviews the death penalty protocols she ordered because of Arizona’s history of mishandling executions.

Gunches attended a brief hearing Thursday before Arizona’s parole board, which can recommend to the governor that inmates’ sentences be commuted and given a reprieve. He voluntarily waived his right to seek mercy.

The five-minute meeting was held to double check that Gunches had waived his chance for relief. “Yes, ma’am,” Gunches said through a video conference link, confirming his decision to Mina Mendez, who chairs the board.

Hobbs’ attorneys said the corrections department lacks personnel with the appropriate expertise and does not have a current contract for a pharmacist to compound the pentobarbital needed for an execution. They also said corrections officials are unable to reveal the identity of the state’s previous pharmacist, who mostly had contact with an official who is no longer with the department.

A senior corrections leadership position critical to execution planning remains unfilled.

Corrections Director Ryan Thornell said he was unable to find enough documentation to understand key elements of the execution process and instead had to piece it together through conversations with employees about what might have happened in past executions.

Hobbs asserted that while the court authorized Gunches’ execution, its order does not require the state to carry it out.

Karen Price, whose brother was a victim in the Gunches case, had asked the court to order Hobbs to carry out the execution. Colleen Clase, an attorney for Karen Price, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday evening.

Gunches pleaded guilty to murdering Ted Price, who was his girlfriend’s ex-husband.

Arizona, which currently has 110 inmates on death row, carried out three executions last year after a nearly eight-year hiatus caused by criticism that a 2014 execution botched and difficulties in obtaining execution drugs.

Since then, the state has long been criticized for inserting a lethal injection IV into the body of a condemned inmate and for denying the Arizona Republic permission to watch the three executions.

Gunches, who is not a lawyer, represented himself in November when he asked the Supreme Court to issue his execution order so that, he said, justice would be served and the victim’s families could have closure. In Republican Mark Brnovich’s last month as state attorney general, his office asked the court for an order for Gunches’ execution.

But Gunches then withdrew his request in early January, and newly elected Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes later asked to withdraw the order.

The state Supreme Court denied Mayes’ request, saying it must grant an injunction if certain appeals have been completed and that those requirements have been met in the Gunches’ case.

In another change, Gunches said in a filing that he still wants to be executed and asked to be moved to Texas, where, he wrote, “the law still applies and inmates can still serve their sentences.” The Arizona Supreme Court denied the transfer.

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