Petersen And Toma Challenge Hobbs’ Death Penalty Decision

Petersen And Toma Challenge Hobbs’ Death Penalty Decision

By Daniel Stefanski |

Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs’ propensity for politically motivated decisions continues to lead to drawn-out fights with the Republican-led Legislature.

On Wednesday, Republican legislative leaders, Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma, filed an amicus brief with the Arizona Supreme Court over the governor’s controversial action to halt the execution of Aaron Brian Gunches.

A press release from the State Senate Republican Caucus stated that “the legislative leaders filed an amicus brief with the Arizona Supreme Court to support the victim’s sister, who submitted a petition for special action last week asking the court to direct the Governor to carry out the warrant issued earlier in the month to execute Gunches.”

In announcing his filing with the state’s high court, President Petersen said, “Right now, victims’ rights protected under the Arizona Constitution are being threatened by the Governor and the Attorney General. It’s incredibly disturbing to see them unwilling to enforce the law and are siding with the most vile individuals convicted of carrying out the most heinous crimes in our state. Furthermore, the Executive Branch is clearly undermining the very foundation of separation of powers by attempting to override the statutory process adopted by the Legislature and affirmed by the Judiciary. This is a dangerous precedent to set by our newly elected Governor.”

The Senate President and the House Speaker argue that “the Governor’s unilateral executive decision threatens bedrock principles of separation of powers by usurping the statutory process established by the Legislature and affirmed by the Judiciary,” that “the decision willfully defies this Court’s mandatory order – signaling to all Arizonans that the Governor is not subject to this Court’s jurisdiction and is, in fact, above the law,” that “the Governor has effectively provided a reprieve of Gunches; death sentence without complying with the statutory limitations on her limited clemency power,” and that “the Governor’s action violates Arizona’s Victim’s Bill of Rights, stripping the victim, Ted Price’s sister, of any finality in this decades-old murder case.”

Senate President Pro Tempore, T.J. Shope, signaled his approval of the court filing, writing, “I agree 100% with President Warren Petersen on this. If we are truly caring less about the victim and their family than the criminal, we are in for years of pain and high crime.”

Petersen and Toma conclude their filing with the following plea for the Arizona Supreme Court to force the state to execute the condemned murderer: “Absent clear and specific delegation of authority from the Legislature or the Judiciary, the Executive cannot rule by fiat and choose which statutes or court orders to follow. The Governor’s actions here set a dangerous precedent, opening a Pandora’s Box and inviting litigation every time she disagrees with a jury’s verdict, a court order, or other statutory mandates passed by the Legislature.”

The saga over Gunches execution started in late-2022, when former Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich asked the Arizona Supreme Court for a warrant of execution. After the January 2 transition of power to Katie Hobbs and new Attorney General Kris Mayes, the state desperately attempted to reverse the actions that set Gunches’ execution process into motion. These efforts proved to be unsuccessful, however, when the high court did, in fact, grant the warrant of execution, ordering the state to put Gunches to death on April 6. The governor refused to comply with the court-issued warrant, stating that the State would not be seeking to carry out the execution at this time. Hobbs’ decision triggered court filings from Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell and Petersen and Toma.

The Arizona Supreme Court is expected to take expedient action in this case with a life and a court-imposed date of execution hanging in the balance.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

Hobbs Vows Not To Carry Out Execution Of Murderer Aaron Gunches

Hobbs Vows Not To Carry Out Execution Of Murderer Aaron Gunches

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.