Arizona’s first Democratic governor in a decade wasted no time proving he was a Democrat by halting the state’s executions — keeping more than 100 murderers on the state’s death row, including a man who kidnapped and brutally killed his girlfriend’s ex-husband. .
According to the Associated Press, Gov. Katie Hobbs, who emerged victorious in a contentious race with Republican challenger Cary Lake, ordered the moratorium Friday “due to the state’s history of mishandling convictions.”
In the executive order, Hobbes did not officially declare a moratorium on executions. However, he appointed a commissioner to oversee a review of how executions are carried out — and the state’s new Democratic attorney general, Chris Mayes, has said he will not seek court orders to execute prisoners while the review is underway.
“It’s time for the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry, now under new leadership, to address the fact that this is a system that needs better oversight on a number of fronts,” Hobbs told reporters.
The executive order outlines the commissioner’s scope, which includes, among other things, “ADCRR procedures and protocols for executions by gas chamber and lethal injection, but not limited to lethal injection, transparency and setting lines. Media access, access to legal counsel for inmates.
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The yet-to-be-named commissioner will report to the governor on ways to improve the death penalty process.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Arizona has two methods of executing death row inmates: gas chamber or lethal injection. Since voters approved lethal injection in 1992, inmates have been able to choose which method of execution.
A 2014 execution and difficulties in obtaining the drugs needed to carry out the lethal injection put the execution on hold for eight years.
However, in 2020, Arizona announced that it had found a compounding pharmacist to supply the necessary drugs, and in the spring of 2021, the state finally received a supply of the drugs.
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Still, the three executions under former governor Doug Ducey were not without controversy.
“Since executions resumed, the state has been criticized for denying the Arizona Republic’s request in early May to insert an IV into the body of a condemned inmate and to witness the last three executions,” the AP reported.
At present, 110 prisoners are on death row in the state, the report said. The Arizona Republic published their list last year along with their photos and a summary of their horrific crimes.
Take Joseph Clarence Smith Jr., for example. He was “convicted of the murders of two teenage girls while hitchhiking in Maricopa County in 1975. Both teenagers died of suffocation after Smith forced dirt into their mouths and nostrils and gagged them. He stabbed each girl multiple times.
Or Preston Strong. The Republic reported that he was “convicted in 2017 of the 2005 murders of his best friend, Luis Rios; Rios’ girlfriend, Adrienne Heredia; and Heredia’s four children, 13-year-old Andreas Crawford, 12-year-old Enrique Bedoya, 9-year-old Inez Newman and 6-year-old Danny Heredia III.” He spent hours suffocating the victims and shot his best friend and younger boy.
The ulcer bar keeps growing.
The first of them since Hobbs’ break was 51-year-old Aaron Brian Gunchess, whose death warrant was issued in his case last year.
According to KNXV-TV, “He was sentenced to death in 2008 after pleading guilty to the kidnapping and murder of his girlfriend’s ex-husband, Ted Price.”
“Gunches are also bullet a [state Department of Public Safety] Gunches pleaded guilty to attempted murder, twice after troopers pulled him over near the California border,” it said.
“The bullets used in the incident with the DPS trooper are said to match the casings found near Price’s body.”
As KNXV noted, Gunches initially filed for execution on November 25 but changed his decision in a subsequent January 4 filing.
The Attorney General honored Mayes’ request, retaining him for the time being.
“My previous administration sought a death warrant for Mr. Gunch after it had initiated an investigation itself. These circumstances have now changed. However, that is not the only reason I am now requesting that the previous motion be withdrawn,” Mayes said.
“A complete review of Arizona’s protocols and processes governing the death penalty is needed. I applaud Governor Hobbs for establishing the Death Penalty Independent Review Commissioner to begin that process.
Of course, that raises the question of whether the Hobbs-ordered review would be a less controversial way to hit the stop button on the death penalty in a state that’s still red despite recent Republican losses.
The new governor was asked Friday where he stood on the death penalty and declined to answer.
Democrats, who are on less shaky ground with voters on the issue of the death penalty in other states — and at the federal level — have been clear about their intentions to end or curtail the death penalty.
President Joe Biden promised on his campaign website that he would “work to enact legislation to abolish the death penalty at the federal level and encourage states to follow the federal government’s example.”
Federal executions are currently on hold due to a review ordered by US Attorney General Merrick Garland in July 2021. In addition to looking at whether pentobarbital, a lethal injection, is humane, Garland said in the memo that the death penalty “has a disproportionate impact on people of color.”
This January, outgoing Democratic Oregon Governor Kate Brown commuted all death sentences in her state to life in prison.
Another outgoing Democrat, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, tried to do the same, according to the Associated Press. However, state law does not give the governor sole power to grant pardons, and the judge ruled that his attempt to call a last-minute meeting of the pardon board did not give the victims’ families the required 15 days’ notice. Action
So, yes, Democrats do this when they’re lame ducks or don’t have to worry about shaky support in a generally red state. In Hobbs’s case, she doesn’t have that luxury.
The question then becomes whether the commissioner she will appoint will be little more than a tool to sidestep the fury of the pro-death penalty public.
At the very least, though, she saves a cold-blooded killer like Aaron Gunchus for a while — and denies justice to his loved ones.
This article was originally published in The Western Journal.