Could midterm election affect the rare request of a death row inmate to be executed?

Fifty-one-year-old Aaron Gunches has requested his own execution claiming he wants to give closure to his victim’s family.
Published: Dec. 9, 2022 at 7:05 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- A death row inmate is requesting his own death. It’s not a very common request, but it got the attorney general’s attention to go ahead and request a death warrant from the state Supreme Court. As officials await the court’s decision, this could all be up in the air because of the midterm election results.

Fifty-one-year-old Aaron Gunches has requested his own execution claiming he wants to give closure to his victim’s family. “It is very rare for someone to request to be executed. It’s much, much more common for inmates to fight an execution,” said former Dept. of Corrections public information officer Barrett Marson. Marson attended four executions in that position from 2009 to 2011.

Gunches was convicted of kidnapping and killing his girlfriend’s ex-husband, Ted Price, in 2002, then shooting an Arizona DPS trooper after being pulled over in 2003. The trooper was wearing a bulletproof vest and survived.

Gunches pleaded guilty to both crimes in 2004 and was sentenced to death in 2008. After the court found a procedural error, he was re-sentenced to death in 2013.

Plenty of inmates have been on death row longer than him, but this week Attorney General Mark Brnovich requested the Arizona Supreme Court issue a warrant of execution for Gunches. “It’s the attorney general’s job to initiate the process of an execution to seek a death warrant,” said Marson.

But the timing of this puts everything in question. We’re just weeks away from the end of the year with no decision yet from the state Supreme Court. While we currently have a Republican attorney general and Republican governor, that’s all about to change.

“Mark Brnovich is saying, ‘yes, issue the warrant,’ but if the incoming AG doesn’t feel the same way, what happens here?” asked reporter Briana Whitney. “Well, if the warrant is issued already then it would also be on Katie Hobbs. The Dept. of Correction is under her, so she may be the final arbiter of whether this execution goes forward,” said Marson. “She has the power to stop executions.”

Hobbs will be a Democratic governor, and though the attorney general race is in a recount, as it stands now, Democrat Kris Mayes will be attorney general. Mayes told Arizona’s Family the death penalty is the law of Arizona, and she will enforce the law, but said in a statement in part: “…we need to take some time to assess how the death penalty has worked, and make sure that this is done legally and correctly, which is what I plan to do upon taking office.”

So, whether or not the Supreme Court issues this death warrant, this likely isn’t over. “We have not heard the final word on this because we have a change in both the attorney general and governor,” said Marson.

If the Supreme Court does grant the warrant, the execution day would be set for 35 days after the approval. At that time, the new governor could intervene if she chose to.

Gunches is one of 21 death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals. The state trooper Gunches attempted to murder is still on the force with Arizona DPS but did not want to be interviewed.