PHOENIX -- The Arizona Supreme Court issued a warrant to execute a prisoner even though the state’s new Democratic attorney general tried to withdraw her Republican predecessor’s request to carry out the execution.
The decision to schedule the execution of Aaron Gunches came six weeks after Attorney General Kris Mayes’ office said it wasn’t going to seek court orders to execute prisoners until a review ordered by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs of death penalty procedures is completed. The state has a history of mismanaging executions.
In an order issued Thursday, the state’s highest court said it must grant an execution warrant if certain appellate proceedings have concluded — and the court said those requirements were met in Gunches’ case.
The court said the review being conducted by the Hobbs administration “does not constitute good cause for refraining from issuing the warrant.”
Mayes’ office declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s order, and Hobbs’ office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.
Nearly a week ago, Hobbs appointed retired U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan to examine the state’s procurement of lethal injection drugs and other death penalty protocols.
While Hobbs didn’t declare a moratorium on the death penalty, Mayes’ office said she would not seek court orders to execute prisoners while the review is underway.
Arizona, which currently has 110 prisoners on death row, carried out three executions last year after a nearly eight-year hiatus that was brought on by criticism that a 2014 execution was botched and because of difficulties obtaining execution drugs.
Since resuming executions, the state has been criticized for taking too long to insert an IV for lethal injection into a condemned prisoner’s body in early May and for denying the Arizona Republic newspaper’s request to witness the last three executions. Gunches is scheduled to be executed on April 6 for his murder conviction in the 2002 killing of Ted Price, his girlfriend's ex-husband, in Maricopa County. Gunches, who isn't a lawyer, represented himself in November when he asked Supreme Court to issue his execution warrant so that justice could be served and the victims could get closure. In Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s last month in office, his office asked the court for a warrant to execute Gunches.
But Gunches then withdrew his request in early January, and Mayes later asked for the execution warrant submitted during Brnovich’s tenure to be withdrawn.