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Before 2020, there had been three federal executions in 60 years. Then Trump put 13 people to death in six months IN THE FINAL moments of Brandon Bernard’s life, before he was executed by lethal injection at a federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Dec. 10, 2020, President Donald Trump picked up the phone to entertain a final plea for mercy on Bernard’s behalf. The call was not with Bernard’s family or his attorneys. Nor was it with representatives from the Justice Department’s Pardon Attorney office, who had recommended just days earlier that Trump spare Bernard’s life.

Gov. Hobbs, Attorney General Mayes pause death penalty in Arizona pending review process

Gov. Katie Hobbs announced the appointment of a Death Penalty Independent Review Commissioner on Friday, and Attorney General Kris Mayes filed to withdraw a motion for the only pending death warrant, effectively pausing executions in Arizona.

In a statement, Hobbs said the commissioner would be tasked with "reviewing and providing transparency into the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, & Reentry (ADCRR) lethal injection drug and gas chamber chemical procurement process, execution protocols, and staffing considerations including training and experience."

Hobbs said the commissioner will then issue a final report that includes recommendations on improving the transparency, accountability, and safety of the execution process.

“With the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry now under new leadership, it’s time to address the fact that this is a system that needs better oversight on numerous fronts,” Hobbs said. “Arizona has a history of mismanaged executions that have resulted in serious questions and concerns about ADCRR’s execution protocols and lack of transparency. I’m confident that under Director Thornell, ADCRR will take this executive action seriously.”

Former Gov. Doug Ducey and former Attorney General Mark Brnovich resumed executions in Arizona in 2022, carrying out the lethal injections of death row prisoners Clarence Dixon, Frank Atwood, and Murray Hooper.

Death row prisoner Aaron Gunches had filed a motion in November asking the Arizona Supreme Court to issue a death warrant, "so that justice may be lawfully served and give closure to the victim's family." But Gunches subsequently changed his mind.

Gunches was sentenced to death for the 2002 murder of Ted Price, a former longtime boyfriend of Gunches' girlfriend. Gunches kidnapped and shot Price multiple times in a desert area off the Beeline Highway.

Gunches pled guilty to kidnapping and first-degree murder in 2004, and he has consistently waived his right to counsel, mitigation and post-conviction litigation.

Brnovich responded with his own request for Gunches' execution warrant.

But Gunches filed another motion in January, telling the state Supreme Court he had changed his mind after reading an Arizona Republic article quoting then-candidate Mayes, who said, "We need to take some time to assess how the death penalty has worked, and make sure that this is done legally and correctly."

Gunches told the state Supreme Court he would not have filed his previous motion requesting the warrant, "had he known this stunning news, and now seeks to withdraw."

Gunches also pointed to the 3 executions in 2022 where Arizona Department of Corrections execution team members struggled to insert IV lines during the lethal injection process.

"My predecessor's administration sought a warrant of execution for Mr. Gunches after he initiated the proceedings himself," Mayes said on Friday. "These circumstances have now changed."

Mayes said Gunches' request is not the only reason she was requesting the previous motion be withdrawn.

"A thorough review of Arizona's protocols and processes governing capital punishment is needed," Mayes said. "I applaud Governor Hobbs for establishing a Death Penalty Independent Review Commissioner to begin that process.”

Mayes pointed to other states and the federal government, which are also reviewing their use of the death penalty. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey halted all executions in the state in November after 2 botched lethal injections, calling for a “top-to-bottom” review of the process.

“If Arizona is going to execute individuals, it should have a system for doing so that is transparent, accountable, and carried out in a manner faithful to our constitution and the rule of law,” Mayes said. "I look forward to working with the governor, the newly established commissioner, and others to ensure the public's confidence in Arizona's capital punishment system."

Karen Price, Ted Price's sister, wants the execution to move forward. Price argued in a court filing that she has a constitutional right "to a prompt and final conclusion of the case."

In a motion filed in response to Gunches' motion to withdraw his request for a death warrant, Arizona Voice For Crime Victims attorney Colleen Clase said Gunches "callously" ended Ted Price's life, causing his family "more than 2 decades of emotional pain as well as a longing for an end of the criminal process."

There are 110 prisoners on Arizona’s death row. Of those, 21 have exhausted their appeals.

Source: Arizona Republic, Staff, January 20, 2023





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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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