Katie Hobbs ignores Supreme Court ruling to execute prisoner

March 5, 2023

Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs (D) said she will ignore a directive by the Arizona Supreme Court and will not execute a prisoner who was convicted of murdering his then-girlfriend's ex-boyfriend on the scheduled date of April 6. 

The Supreme Court issued a warrant for the execution of Aaron Gunches, saying it was required to do so because the appeals process was complete.

Gunches himself asked for the execution warrant in November, saying it would provide “closure to the victim’s family.”

In January, however, he withdrew the request after learning that recent executions were “carried out in a manner that amounts to torture,” which led to Hobbs' current investigation of the process.

The discrepancy

But Hobbs says the Supreme Court warrant only authorizes the execution, but doesn't require it.

“The Court’s decision order and warrant make clear … that the warrant authorizes an execution and does not require it,” Hobbs said in a statement. “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.”

The Democrat Attorney General Kris Mayes tried to withdraw the request for the warrant issued by former AG Mark Brnovich (R), but the Supreme Court denied the request.

Hobbs wants a review of Arizona's use of the death penalty by the Death Penalty Independent Review Commission she instituted when she took office before she will approve or allow any more executions in the state.

Battle of wills

“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 said Friday.

It seems as though there is now a battle of wills between Hobbs and the state Supreme Court, since the court said that Hobbs' inquiry “does not constitute good cause for refraining from issuing the warrant.”

Law professor and former public defender Dale Baich said that governors do have the authority to pause executions.

“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,” Baich said.

But the Maricopa County Attorney's Office disagrees.

In a statement, the office said Hobbs “has a constitutional and statutory responsibility to carry out all sentences, including the execution of Aaron Gunches.”

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