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'No law allows it': Maricopa County prosecutor challenges Gov. Hobbs' refusal to proceed with execution

County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, victim's sister ask Arizona Supreme Court to order Hobbs to enforce death penalty. Arizona Supreme Court puts petition on fast track

PHOENIX — The Arizona Supreme Court is fast-tracking a decision on whether to order Gov. Katie Hobbs to carry out the execution of a murder convict. 

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell joined a crime victims' rights group Monday in petitioning the high court to compel Hobbs to enforce the death penalty against Aaron Gunches.

"No law allows the governor to unilaterally suspend executions," Mitchell's court brief said.

The high court has set a Thursday deadline for all briefs in the case.

A Hobbs spokeswoman said via email Tuesday that the governor's office is reviewing the filing and couldn't comment further. The governor's response to the petition is due Wednesday.

The Republican county attorney said in a prepared statement that she "supports the right of victims to a prompt and final conclusion of the case."

The Mitchell brief supports the Arizona Voice for Crime Victims' petition for special action by the high court, filed on behalf of Karen Price, sister of Gunches' murder victim, Ted Price. 

Two weeks ago, Hobbs said the state wouldn't proceed with executions until her office's review of death-penalty procedures was complete.

The day before, the state Supreme Court had granted an execution warrant for Gunches with a date of April 6.

Gunches pleaded guilty in 2004 to first-degree murder and kidnapping in the 2002 killing of Ted Price, his girlfriend’s former husband.

Price's body was found in a desert area off the Beeline Highway in December 2002. He had been shot  several times.

Arizona executions were put on hold in January after Hobbs, a first-term Democrat, issued an executive order establishing a death penalty review commission. She cited questions about the Department of Corrections execution protocols and lack of transparency.

Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes immediately paused executions. 

In issuing the warrant of execution for Gunches earlier this month, Chief Justice Robert Brutinel explained why the high court moved ahead, despite the pause by Mayes.

"The narrow question before this court is whether the criteria for issuing a warrant that authorizes the execution of appellant Aaron Brian Gunches, set forth in statute and this court’s rules, are satisfied," Brutinel said.

"If those criteria are met, under statute and rule the court 'shall' and 'must' issue the warrant. As the state has placed the court on notice that the criteria are satisfied, and no party having asserted otherwise, the court’s duty is to issue the warrant that authorizes the execution."

Gunches has changed his mind at least twice on whether he wants to be executed.

In a motion last week, Gunches asked the Supreme Court to “transfer him to the State of Texas, where the law is still followed and inmates can still get their sentences carried out."

The court denied the request.

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