The Arizona Supreme Court Tuesday asked the involved parties for more clarity in the case of a death row prisoner who had originally asked for his sentence to be carried out, but then changed his mind.
The high court asked death row prisoner Aaron Gunches, 51, as well as the state, and the victim's family of Gunches' crime, to submit briefs discussing what authority the court has in the matter.
"Because the State's original motion for warrant of execution placed this Court on notice that the requirements of (state law) have been satisfied, and because the state's motion to withdraw does not assert otherwise, does this court have authority to do anything other than issue the warrant of execution?" asked Chief Justice Robert Brutinel in a written order Tuesday.
The briefs are due on Feb. 14 and the court said it would again conference on the matter and could still potentially issue an execution warrant on Feb. 28.
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The ruling follows an announcement from Attorney General Kris Mayes earlier this month that her office would not pursue a warrant for Gunches, accompanied by an executive order from Governor Hobbs pausing the death penalty pending an internal review.
Gunches 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." Then-Attorney General Mark Brnovich responded with his own request for Gunches' execution warrant.
But then Gunches reversed his decision.
He 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 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. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping and first-degree murder in 2004, and has consistently waived his right to counsel, mitigation and post-conviction litigation.
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 two decades of emotional pain as well as a longing for an end of the criminal process."
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.
In each case, Department of Corrections execution team members struggled to insert IV lines during the lethal injection process.
In her announcement of the establishment of a Death Penalty Independent Review Commissioner, Governor 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."
There are 110 prisoners on Arizona's death row. Of those, 22 have exhausted their appeals.
Have a news tip on Arizona prisons? Reach the reporter at email@example.com or at 812-243-5582. Follow him on Twitter @JimmyJenkins.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Supreme Court seeks clarity on request for execution warrant