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Gov. Hobbs' prisons director says executions can resume. Will Hobbs give go-ahead?

Ryan Thornell described the process as a mess just a few months ago. But the governor's spokesman says executions will remain on hold.

PHOENIX — Arizona's new prisons director says he's ready to resume executions on death row. But will Gov. Katie Hobbs give the go-ahead?

Ryan Thornell was peppered with questions Tuesday by state senators vetting his nomination.  

Has he fixed Arizona's execution process? The answer was "yes."

"The issues, the questions, the concerns I had as director have all been resolved," Thornell told the Senate's Committee on Director Nominations.

The committee advanced Thornell's nomination to the full Senate.

Back in March, Thornell painted a different picture when Hobbs refused to carry out the execution of Aaron Gunches, the first during her watch as governor.

Thornell testified then that he didn't have the staff to carry out executions or the drugs for lethal injections. 

"I was fully transparent with (Hobbs' team) that we were going to continue with our preparation processes," Thornell told the committee. 

Thornell kept working on the problems. The death chamber, he said, was ready a month ago.

"We are operationally prepared as of May 5 to carry out an execution," said Thornell, former deputy director of the State of Maine's prison system.

But a Hobbs spokesman says nothing has changed at her end. 

Hobbs' pause on executions remains in place. 

The Democratic governor is awaiting a report from an independent commissioner reviewing the state's execution procedures. 

There's no deadline for the report's delivery.

Former Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich restarted execution in 2022 after an eight-year hiatus. A botched execution resulted in a court settlement that proscribes how the state carries out the death penalty. 

Three death row inmates were executed in Brnovich's final eight months in office. Brnovich also set in motion the death warrant for Gunches' execution, which Hobbs refused to carry out.

A spokesman for Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes, who's responsible for seeking death warrants for executions, said Mayes is also waiting for the independent report.

Republican Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell said Thornell's progress on executions gives hope to crime victims' families seeking resolution.

"It was a pleasant surprise,"  Mitchell said in an interview.

Mitchell will continue to pursue the death penalty. Her office is already preparing for appeals of a man sentenced to death Wednesday for the "Canal Killings" in Phoenix in the 1990s.

"We're going to proceed, business as usual," she said. "The law is still the law. It hasn't changed."

Mitchell is pursuing a lawsuit that challenges the governor's authority to refuse to carry out an execution. 

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