Democrat AZ Gov. Katie Hobbs refuses to carry out inmate's execution

 March 5, 2023

In a battle of two separate branches of state government, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) declared on Friday that her administration would not move forward with an execution scheduled by the state's Supreme Court, as the Associated Press reports.

The controversy stems from the planned April 6 execution of death row inmate Aaron Gunches, who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend's ex-partner back in 2002, according to the Arizona Republic.

Hobbs says no

The governor's objections to carrying out Gunches' death sentence are grounded in concerns over the state's processes for obtaining lethal injection drugs and of other protocols related to executions, which advocates have argued are plagued by mismanagement.

Addressing the situation on Friday, Hobbs said, “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.”

Supporting Hobbs' stance is Attorney General Kris Mayes, who indicated her unwillingness to pursue court orders to carry out death sentences while a review of the aforementioned protocols ordered by the governor is underway.

Mayes already attempted to withdraw a prior warrant request for Gunches' execution submitted by her predecessor in office, Republican Mark Brnovich, but the state Supreme Court denied that request and granted a warrant of execution for the convicted murderer on Thursday.

Stalemate ensues

In responding to the Hobbs administration's request to withdraw the earlier warrant request, the Supreme Court noted that the protocol review ordered by the governor in and of itself “does not constitute good cause for refraining from issuing the warrant.”

Even so, Hobbs contends, her administration is not bound by any requirement to actually carry out the sentence.

“The Court's decision order and warrant make clear, however, that the warrant authorizes an execution and does not require it,” the governor argued.

Hobbs continued, “This is consistent with the law and separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches on this most serious exercise of the power of the State.”

Divergent opinions emerge

As the AP noted, Hobbs received an endorsement for her position from former federal defender and law professor Dale Baich, who declared that the governor can indeed exercise her powers as the chief executive of Arizona if she believes an execution cannot be completed in a manner consistent with constitutional requirements.

Baich said, “What the governor did is not unique. Governors in Alabama, Ohio, and Tennessee recently used their authority to pause executions because they had serious questions about the protocols in their states.”

However, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office disagreed, maintaining that the governor “has a constitutional and statutory responsibility to carry out all sentences, including the execution of Aaron Gunches.”

Gunches, for his part, filed a request late last year with the state Supreme Court for his execution to proceed as planned “so that justice may be lawfully served and give closure to the victim's family,” as the Arizona Republic noted at the time, but he withdrew his petition in January, setting the stage for the current governmental stalemate.

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