By Daniel Stefanski |
Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs is delaying justice for the victims of a convicted killer, and the State Senate President is furious with her calculation to ignore a recent execution warrant issued by the Arizona Supreme Court.
Last week, the state’s top court issued an execution warrant for a convicted murderer, Aaron Gunches, who was first sentenced to death in 2008 for the killing of Ted Price in 2002. Following an early-December 2022 request from then-Attorney General Mark Brnovich for a warrant of execution, the Arizona Supreme Court finally set an April 6 execution date – even in the face of tremendous opposition from Arizona’s new governor and attorney general.
After receiving the order from the state’s high court, Hobbs issued a lengthy statement, announcing that she would not be fulfilling the execution date for Gunches and justifying her decision. The governor wrote: “Yesterday, the Arizona Supreme Court issued a warrant of execution for Aaron Brian Gunches, despite the State withdrawing its motion and informing the Court that the State does not seek to carry out an execution at this time….the State and ADCRR (Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation & Reentry) does not intend to proceed with an execution on April 6, 2023.”
Arizona’s Senate President, Warren Petersen, was outraged by the governor’s decree, tweeting, “He should absolutely be executed! Imagine if a Republican governor refused to carry out this order made by the court!”
And he later added, “Criminals over victims. Not a good look for Arizona.”
Governor Hobbs’ decision to halt Gunches’ execution comes after a chaotic change in policy from the Governor’s and Attorney General’s Offices following the transition of power on January 2, 2023. On January 20, Hobbs established a Death Penalty Independent Review Commissioner, tasking this individual to review and provide “transparency into the ADCRR lethal injection drug and gas chamber chemical procurement process, execution protocols, and staffing considerations including training and experience.” Hobbs stated then that “Arizona has a history of mismanaged executions that have resulted in serious questions and concerns about ADCRR’s execution protocols and lack of transparency.”
The governor’s rollout of this executive order included cooperation from newly installed Attorney General Kris Mayes, who announced that day that her office “filed a motion to withdraw the warrant of execution for Aaron Brian Gunches.” She announced that her office would “also pause all requests for warrants of execution while the review process (that Hobbs was implementing) is pending.”
Mayes did acknowledge the family members of the murdered victim who were caught in the middle of the political posturing, tweeting, “My heart goes out to the family of Ted Price. I know this must be an unimaginable situation for them. Families of victims of those on death row deserve sympathy and support from all of us, and I extend mine to Mr. Price’s family today.”
On February 24, Governor Hobbs announced the appointment of retired Judge David Duncan as the Commissioner she previously promised – again repeating her claim about Arizona’s history of “mismanaged executions” despite the past three executions under former Attorney General Brnovich and former Governor Doug Ducey occurring as planned. Also, as with her January 20th statement, the governor expressed confidence in her choice to lead the ADCRR, Ryan Thornell, who was nominated on January 17. Thornell was selected from his role as the Deputy Commissioner of Corrections for the Maine Department of Corrections.
Governor Hobbs gave Thornell another endorsement in her most-recent statement announcing that she would not be going forward with Gunches’ execution, saying, “Director Thornell will continue to build up ADCRR’s staffing and competencies to be able to conduct an execution in compliance with state and federal laws, and will balance that work with the work needed to solve the urgent medical, mental health, and other critical problems the Director has inherited from the prior administration.”
According to Senate sources, though, Thornell’s nomination has not been transmitted to the Arizona Legislature for consent as is constitutionally required. Once the Governor’s Office complies with the Arizona Constitution, Thornell would face a rigorous vetting process by the panel commissioned by President Petersen and chaired by Senator Jake Hoffman. With two – and possibly three – of Hobbs’ original choices to run state agencies already derailed by a lack of vetting from her office, Thornell’s journey – and the stability of the agency he has been tasked to run – faces significant question marks as the governor’s administration hits its third month of operation.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.