Aaron Gunches has been close to being executed in Arizona in the past. But, whether today’s Motion restarting the process for a warrant of execution restarted the countdown clock will depend on the showdown between the Maricopa County Attorney and the Arizona Attorney General.

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell – who is seeking re-election and is in a tough primary battle – today filed a Motion with the Arizona Supreme Court. Before she could post her announcement video on X/Twitter, Attorney General Kris Mayes released a statement blistering Mitchell as a “rogue” County Attorney who does not recognize that there is “only one Attorney General at a time.” Mayes promised a Motion to Strike Mitchell’s effort.

The Arizona statute that will determine whether a gung ho County Attorney can ask the Supreme Court for the warrant of execution is a basic one giving the AG the power to represent the State in all proceedings before the highest court.

Here’s the statute: “The department of law shall be composed of the attorney general and the subdivisions of the department created as provided in this article. Unless otherwise provided by law the department shall: 1. Prosecute and defend in the supreme court all proceedings in which this state or an officer of this state in the officer’s official capacity is a party.”

Mitchell contends that that is not exclusive and that she shares that power, although there is no evidence that any County Attorneys have ever tried to execute a death row prisoner before. “I believe that as an attorney who acts on behalf of the state, I also can appropriately ask the Supreme Court for a death warrant.”

But, Mayes is having none of that. “Even though she knows what she is doing has no legal merit, County Attorney Mitchell seeks to circumvent the authority of the Attorney General’s office and to use victims as pawns for her own political gain. I have insisted the independent review be finished in a timely manner so that when a warrant is ultimately issued by my office, victims will have certainty that it will be carried out.”

Gunches kidnapped and killed Ted Price in 2002, and pleaded guilty to it in 2007. He sought his own death warrant in 2022, but withdrew it in January 2023. Since then, Attorney General Mayes commissioned an independent death penalty review and last month announced that she would resume seeking warrants of execution late this year.

We are taking the unusual (for us) step of not only publishing the Motion filed today, but also the full statements from Mitchell and Mayes.

This article was reported by AZ Law founder Paul Weich. 

“AZ Law” includes articles, commentaries and updates about opinions from the Arizona Supreme Court, U.S. Supreme Court, as well as trial and appellate courts, etc. AZ Law is founded by Phoenix attorney Paul Weich, and joins Arizona’s Politics on the internet. 

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