Maricopa County Attorney moves to seek death warrant for Aaron Gunches

Although Arizona hasn't conducted an execution since 2022, the Maricopa County Attorney plans to seek a death warrant for another death row inmate.

On June 5, it was announced that Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell filed a motion with the Arizona Supreme Court, in "a move to ultimately seek a warrant of execution for Aaron Brian Gunches."

Gunches is the man who, in 2002, led Ted Price into a remote area of the desert to shoot and kill him. Price was the ex-husband of Gunches’ girlfriend.

A news release from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office (MCAO) outlines Gunches' criminal past, saying, "Gunches pled guilty to first-degree murder and kidnapping for Price’s death. In a separate case out of La Paz County, Gunches pled guilty to the attempted murder of an Arizona Department of Public Safety Trooper. A jury sentenced Gunches to death for the murder of Ted Price. After an error was discovered in the sentencing proceeding, a jury sentenced Gunches to death a second time in 2013."

This is not the first time legal moves were made to facilitate Gunches' execution. In November 2022, Gunches filed a request for his own death warrant with the state's Supreme Court, but he later withdrew that request, stating that he did not know Kris Mayes, who won election for Arizona Attorney General that same month, had stated her intentions of "pausing" executions in Arizona.

"Aaron Gunches would not have filed his motions had he known this stunning news, and now seeks to withdraw," read a portion of the handwritten court documents.

After she took office as Attorney General, Mayes tried to withdraw a request for Gunches' death warrant that was filed by her predecessor, Mark Brnovich. The court, however, refused the request. While a death warrant was ultimately granted, Governor Katie Hobbs said her administration would not carry out an execution. At the time, a retired U.S. Magistrate Judge was appointed by Gov. Hobbs to review Arizona's execution process.

That death warrant for Gunches ultimately expired, and Mitchell would like a new warrant issued.

"For nearly two years, we’ve seen delay after delay from the governor and the attorney general," Mitchell said on June 5. "The commissioner’s report was expected at the end of 2023, but it never arrived. In a letter received by my office three weeks ago, I’m now told the report might be complete in early 2025. For almost 22 years, Ted Price’s family has been waiting for justice and closure. They’re not willing to wait any longer and neither am I."

The county attorney says she's asking for the Arizona Supreme Court to "set a briefing schedule" so that she can request a new warrant of execution.

"While it is unusual for a county attorney to seek a death warrant, it is also true that each county represents the state in felony prosecutions that occur in Arizona," the news release said.

She explains that she, as an attorney, who can act on behalf of the state, should also be able to ask Arizona's Supreme Court for a death warrant.

Arizona resumed executions in May 2022, when Clarence Dixon was put to death. Dixon's execution marked the end of a nearly eight-year execution hiatus that began after Joseph Wood was put to death in 2014. Lawyers for Wood claim his execution was botched. FOX 10's Troy Hayden, who witnessed Wood's execution, said Wood moved on the table and appeared to gasp for air for almost two hours.