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Arizona inmate who asked to be executed has changed his mind

Aaron Gunches, who was convicted of killing a man in 2002, is asking the Arizona Supreme Court to withdraw an earlier request he submitted to be executed.

PHOENIX — Jan. 6 update: The Arizona Supreme Court has ordered the state to respond to Gunches' motion by Jan. 12. The court expects to make a decision on the death warrant on Jan. 31.

An Arizona death row inmate who had asked the state's Supreme Court to issue a warrant for his execution is withdrawing his request now that the state has a new attorney general.

Aaron Gunches, 51, filed a motion last year for the state to move forward with his execution in order to give closure to the family of the man he murdered in 2002.

Former Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich responded by asking the state Supreme Court to issue an execution warrant against Gunches.

But Gunches is wishing to hold off his execution now that Democrat Kris Mayes is in charge of the attorney general's office. Mayes told the Arizona Republic during November's election that the state needs to take "some time" to make sure the death penalty is handled "legally and correctly."

Mayes narrowly won the attorney general's race by only 280 votes.

In a handwritten motion submitted Wednesday, Gunches said he would have not asked to be executed if he had known Mayes was possibly going to delay executing inmates. 

"AG Mayes is acting in a responsible manner with an ethical and moral obligation, not only to the AG's office but to the laws of Arizona, something previous AG, Mr. Brnovich, had routinely chosen to ignore," Gunches wrote.

"What we're seeing here is a prisoner who is bringing to a head the question of whether Arizona is competent to properly carry out executions," Robert Dunham, executive director for the Death Penalty Information Center, said. 

In his motion, Gunches also writes that the three executions in 2022 were botched' that "amounts to torture."

"Botched" is also the word Dunham uses to describe Arizona's recent executions. 

"Every time Arizona attempted to carry out an execution in 2022, they botched it," Dunham said. 

Dunham said the executions raise questions over transparency and training those carrying out the execution given. 

"To understand just how surreal what was happening was, in the case of Frank Atwood, you literally had a death row prisoner, who had strong evidence of innocence, talking the executioners through how to find vein," 

Dunham said. "And in the case of Murray Hooper, you have a prisoner who looks out towards the gallery and says, 'What's going on here? What's taking so long?, I mean, that is clearly not something that is being accomplished in a reasonable way."

Transparency is also what Mayes wants too. 

"I believe that we need to have a great deal more transparency around the drugs that are being used more transparency around the process. That's being used at the Department of Corrections," Mayes told 12News on Wedesday. "We obviously in recent years have had several botched executions and that's not okay."

Regarding Gunches' motion, a spokesperson for the Attorney General's Office told 12News in an email: 

"The state does not intend to oppose Mr. Gunches’ motion to withdraw. We are scheduled to conference this case in front of the Arizona Supreme Court on January 31. We will weigh all options and make a decision about moving forward before then." - Arizona Attorney General's Office spokesperson

If a death warrant is granted, then Gunches will be the fourth inmate executed within the last year.

Gunches was sentenced to death in 2008 after pleading guilty to killing his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend and attempting to kill a state trooper.

Victim’s family is asking the court to reject the state’s motion to withdraw the death warrant. Here is a response from the victim's family.

"Karen Price and her family have the rights to justice and finality. Arizona’s VBR promises to preserve and protect the rights to justice and finality by giving crime victims a constitutional right not to be continuously victimized by an unending criminal justice process. The constitutional guarantees of “justice” and a “prompt and final conclusion” of this case remain unfulfilled promises to Ms. Price and her family. They deserve a life after the criminal case is final, one in which they are no longer wondering whether there really ever will be justice. Ms. Price respectfully requests this Court deny The State of Arizona’s Motion to Withdraw Motion for Warrant of Execution and issue the Warrant.”


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