The Associated Press reported last week that Arizona’s state Supreme Court issued a warrant to execute Aaron Gunches, who was convicted of kidnapping and fatally shooting a man in 2002.
Yet according to the news service, Arizona Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs has made clear that Gunches won’t be put to death.
“Under my administration, an execution will not occur until the people of Arizona can have confidence that the state is not violating the law in carrying out the gravest of penalties,” Hobbs was quoted as saying in a statement.
The Associated Press noted that the state Supreme Court’s ruling came after Democratic state Attorney General Kris Mayes attempted to withdraw her Republican predecessor’s request for Gunches’ death warrant.
Hobbs’ office put out a press release late last month announcing that the governor has signed an executive order establishing the position of death penalty independent review commissioner.
“Arizona has a history of mismanaged executions that have resulted in serious concerns about ADCRR’s [Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry] execution protocols and lack of transparency,” Hobbs said.
Federal judge will oversee review
“A comprehensive and independent review must be conducted to ensure these problems are not repeated in future executions,” she added.
The governor went on to express confidence in former federal Judge David Duncan, who will be overseeing the review of Arizona’s death penalty system.
While Mayes cited the review when seeking to have the request for Gunches’ death warrant withdrawn, the state Supreme Court found that it did “not constitute good cause for refraining from issuing the warrant.”
Dale Baich is a former federal public defender who teaches death penalty law at Arizona State University and he told the Associated Press that Hobbs’ actions are long overdue.
History of botched executions
“These problems go back more than a decade,” Baich said, referring in part to a botched 2014 execution in which a man took over two hours to die.
Also of concern was an incident this past may that saw executioners struggle to successfully insert an IV into the condemned prisoner.
“The department of corrections, the governor and the attorney general (in past administrations) ignored the issues and refused to take a careful look at the problems,” Baich insisted.
He went on to say that “Gov. Hobbs and Attorney General Mayes should be commended for taking this matter seriously.”