OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
Arizona Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs stirred controversy again this week when she vowed to ignore a court-ordered execution, creating a massive legal and state constitutional showdown in the state.
Hobbs said that she will disregard a court order authorizing the execution of Aaron Gunches, the man convicted in the November 2002 killing of Ted Price near Mesa. The execution is scheduled for April 6.
“The Democratic governor ordered a review of Arizona’s death penalty protocols in January due to the state’s history of mismanaging executions. Over the past week, lawyers for Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell and Karen Price, the sister of the victim, have told the Arizona Supreme Court that Hobbs does not have the legal authority to defy the order,” Fox News reported.
“In a filing on Wednesday, lawyers for Hobbs said the court should not take up Price’s appeal because the state is not currently prepared to carry out an execution in a constitutionally sound manner. The filing also said the corrections department lacks staff with expertise, according to The AP. Hobbs’s lawyers wrote that the state does not have a contract for a pharmacist to compound the pentobarbital needed for execution at the moment, and corrections officials are not able to identify the state’s previous compounding pharmacist. It was also noted that a top corrections leadership position critical to planning executions is open,” the outlet added.
This is Aaron Gunches
In 2002, Mr. Gunches shot & killed his girlfriend's ex-husband, Ted Price, execution-style on the Salt River Reservation
— Kari Lake War Room (@KariLakeWarRoom) March 15, 2023
The execution of Gunches was scheduled over the objections of the state’s new Democratic attorney general, Kris Mayes, “for his murder conviction in a 2002 killing” just “a day after the state Supreme Court said it must grant an execution warrant if certain appellate proceedings have concluded — and that those requirements were met in Gunches’ case,” the Associated Press reported.
Last month, Hobbs designated retired U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan to investigate Arizona’s purchase of lethal injection drugs and other procedures related to the death penalty due to some mismanagement of executions by the state in the past.
“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 in a statement Friday.
Mayes’ office added that the AG will not seek court orders to carry out executions until Hobbs’ review is complete, according to the AP.
After taking office in January, Democratic official Mayes attempted to cancel a warrant request by her Republican predecessor, Mark Brnovich, to Gunches. However, the court refused to withdraw the request on Thursday. The court said Hobbs’ review “does not constitute good cause for refraining from issuing the warrant,” according to the AP.
Hobbs claims that the court merely authorized the execution it did not order the state to carry it out.
Meanwhile, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted Gunches, said in a statement that officials there believe Hobbs “has a constitutional and statutory responsibility to carry out all sentences, including the execution of Aaron Gunches.”
Beyond that, Hobbs has made a series of controversial moves since being sworn into office in January.
Earlier this month, Hobbs vetoed a bill that sought to prohibit public schools from teaching critical race theory. The proposed legislation had provisions to impose fines of up to $5,000 on schools found guilty of instructing the contentious concept.
In January, Hobbs kicked off her term by putting a hold on the scheduled executions of 100 murderers, including one man who kidnapped and brutally killed his girlfriend’s ex-husband. Hobbs issued the order on Friday, allegedly “due to the state’s history of mismanaging executions.”
Hobbs also came under fire from Republicans after she unveiled her $17.1 billion budget proposal, where she wants to defund the border strike force, among other things.
“She proposes to end Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship program, which allows any parent to use a portion of the state funds devoted to their student to pay for private school tuition or various other educational needs. Gov. Doug Ducey pushed for the expansion, which received national attention as one of the most comprehensive school-choice programs in the country. Hobbs projects $144 million in savings in the coming fiscal year and $1.5 billion in taxpayer savings over $10 years. She proposes eliminating the funding from an ‘underreported and unnecessary use’ and funneling that money into public schools,” the Arizona Sun-Times reported.
“In addition, she proposes requiring the state’s charter schools and any that accept ESA accounts to be subjected to the same requirements as public schools. Hobbs also proposes defunding another Ducey initiative in the Border Strike Force, an initiative within the Department of Public Services targeting border crimes and focusing on transnational criminal organizations. In terms of tax breaks, Hobbs proposes a $100 tax credit for each child of a family making less than $40,000 or a single filer earning less than $20,000. Hobbs also wants a tax exemption on diapers and feminine hygiene products,” the outlet added.