John Hickenlooper: Would He Commute Nathan Dunlap's Death Penalty If He Loses?

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John Hickenlooper during the 2013 press conference when he announced his decision about Nathan Dunlap. Additional photos plus audio clips and more below.
In June 2013, a month after Governor John Hickenlooper granted Chuck E. Cheese killer Nathan Dunlap a reprieve from execution but didn't commute his sentence, a poll showed that Colorado voters disagreed with his decision by a three-to-one margin. Since then, the furor has faded -- but the issue is primed to move front-and-center in Hickenlooper's reelection bid against Republican hopeful Bob Beauprez thanks to a newly released audio recording (hear it below) in which Hick speculates about granting clemency to Dunlap should he lose.

Will the election come down to voters picking who's most likely to kill Dunlap? And how much ugliness will emerge along the way? Continue to get a sense of the possibilities, featuring responses from those on both sides of the controversy.

See also: John Hickenlooper Gives Nathan Dunlap Reprieve From Death Penalty but Doesn't Grant Clemency

There's no debate about the heinous nature of Dunlap's crimes. On December 14, 1993, as we've reported, Dunlap entered a Chuck E. Cheese branch from which he'd previously been fired and shot five employees: Margaret Kohlberg, fifty, Sylvia Crowell, nineteen, Ben Grant and Colleen O'Conner, both seventeen, and Bobby Stephens, twenty. Only Stephens survived, and he was very seriously wounded.

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The scene of the crime.
Dunlap was captured within hours and convicted in 1996, at which point the jury opted for execution. He's been on death row ever since, and last year, a week was scheduled for the completion of the sentence: August 18-24.

Then, on May 22, Hickenlooper announced his decision. Here's an excerpt from our post on the subject:

Hickenlooper thanked the victims of the murderous attack for sharing their stories with him and stressed that the decision had "weighed heavily on me for, well, it's been over a year now." But given his statutory responsibilities, "inaction wasn't an option."

Among the questions Hickenlooper asked himself in considering what he would do included mulling whether the death penalty was "just or moral" and "a benefit to the world." The more he studied the topic, the more he concluded that the system was imperfect -- and given the seriousness of the subject, "it really needs to be perfect."

He stressed that he had no doubt about "the heinous nature of the crimes committed," but he was troubled by "the inequity of the system.

"I am deeply respectful of the suffering and loss that occurs," he said. "But it's hard to see...the benefit of the capital punishment system" -- one that takes fifteen to twenty years to wind through the court system and "extends the emotional hardship for those families...."

In the end, he realized that he couldn't in good conscience give the go-ahead to "kill someone who is no risk to society."

Organizations that had lobbied against executing Dunlap immediately praised Hickenlooper's political courage, while pro-death penalty officials such as Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and Jeffco DA Peter Weir pilloried him. We've included coverage of their divergent arguments here.

Despite the passions on both sides, however, the Dunlap decision faded from the foreground during the intervening year-plus. But it's returned to the spotlight thanks to Complete Colorado, which has shared audio obtained by attorney and radio-talk-show host Craig Silverman in an open records request.

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A look at the executive order.
The 45-minute-plus clip comes from a Hickenlooper interview with CNN for a death-penalty piece that was supposed to air in July but has been delayed. One report suggests that it could be broadcast as soon as Friday, but (update) a CNN representative tells us it will debut at 10 p.m. Eastern on September 7. Its title: Eye For an Eye.

Complete Colorado highlights two exchanges. In the first, beginning at the 19:56 mark, a CNN interviewer asks: "But it (the death penalty) is an issue. And, you know, some of your opponents immediately announced that they were going to run on a death penalty platform, um, and in a sense, are putting themselves out there, and not that I'm thinking specifically of (Tom) Tancredo but I believe there are probably others, who are saying, 'Elect me, and we'll kill this guy.' Doesn't that feel kind of like a lynch mob? I mean in some, in some sense?"

To that, Hickenlooper responds: "Well we won't let that happen, I mean, that's obviously, that is -- does, feel that way. And, you know, if that becomes a political issue, in that context within a campaign, um, obviously there's a period of time between the election and, and the end of the year where individuals can make decisions, such as a governor can."

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Craig Silverman.
The second key moment is located just prior to the end of the conversation, beginning at 41:19. Replying to a CNN crew member who asks for additional specifics about the case, Hickenlooper says, "Well, you don't want to go into too much detail in these cases. But, you know, the, the, issue that a political campaign would make a human life, into, you know, a political football, is unacceptable. Right? And it's not... and a) I, I think it would backfire tremendously on any candidate that did that. And if they did do that, and if somehow they won, there are obviously remedies that the governor can do, you know, I could give it a full clemency between election day and the end of the year, I could...there are a number of different opportunities to make sure that doesn't happen. Again, keeping in mind it should not be a political football."

Here's the clip:

Silverman -- who was portrayed as "the liberal one" when he co-hosted a KHOW program with conservative Dan Caplis -- aired this material on Saturday morning during his current KNUS radio show. He also chatted with 18th Judicial District DA George Brauchler; whose office prosecuted Dunlap and he's currently seeking the death penalty against Aurora theater shooter James Holmes. No surprise that Brauchler ripped Hickenlooper for implying he could grant clemency to Dunlap should he lose to Beauprez, who's said he would sign the execution order.

Among Brauchler's comments: "What he's not telling Colorado, but he's telling CNN, is 'Don't worry, I've already granted clemency,' because either I'm going to get re-elected and he's not going to die or I'm going to lose and he's not going to die,"

Here's an embed of Brauchler's appearance on the Silverman show.

A Hickenlooper spokesman says his comments to CNN shouldn't be interpreted as a change in his approach to this issue. But conservative blogs such as Colorado Peak Politics have hammered him on the issue, suggesting that the death penalty issue may have a lot of life left in it after all.

Continue to see previous posts about Nathan Dunlap and the death penalty, including arguments against execution and responses from pro-death-penalty officials.


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143 comments
Dave Villa
Dave Villa

Does it really matter it probably not going to happen

Stephen Barbieri
Stephen Barbieri

Lets deport this POS with all the illegals he gave driver license's to

Alex Ziolkowski
Alex Ziolkowski

Hickenlooper should fix the problems in this state, like outrageously overpriced rent & poor paying jobs! Cannot believe its cheaper to live in Chicago than it is here' perfect example of the same type of corporate greed as in California! Turn the clown over to the victims family & let them string him up & use him as a punching bag with bats!

Mary Maybee
Mary Maybee

Nathan Dunlap is bipolar and even his own family disagrees with Hickenlooper! Get the job done so the victims can have justice served! Hickenlooper should just do away with Nathan and James Holmes and all would be well in our state again!

Vincent Herman
Vincent Herman

I was on the light rail today and I was thinking of that.

Chris Anderson
Chris Anderson

Dunlap murdered 4 people and has shown absolutely no remorse. This will very effectively make democrats a non party in Colorado for about a decade

AsokAsus
AsokAsus

One night less than two weeks before Christmas in 1993, Nathan Dunlap popped out of his hiding place in a bathroom and shot to death, execution style, three female and one male Chuck E. Cheese workers after their Denver area restaurant had closed for business that night. Two of those he slaughtered were 17 year old children (a boy and a girl) and the third was a 19 year old female. A fifth child was grossly maimed. All were unarmed and defenseless. The "motive" was robbery; the take was $1,500.00 in cash and Chuck E. Cheese game tokens.

http://murderpedia.org/male.D/d/dunlap-nathan.htm

Hickenlooper has now stated that he’ll grant clemency to this cold-blooded mass murderer should the governor fail to be re-elected. His stated purpose for such an announcement was so that the death penalty wouldn't become an election issue. Yeah, right. In reality, Hickenlooper would be vindictively perpetuating a gross miscarriage of justice to revenge himself upon the majority of voters should they wish to elect his opponent. All of this just to preserve the life of a worthless mass murderer.

Martine Addison
Martine Addison

He wasn't hinting. He was answering a hypothetical question about what he could do as governor. Not that he would but what power the governor has.

Joe Brown
Joe Brown

Good, leave the death penalty to ISIS and the other primitives.

Jan Reece
Jan Reece

Nathan Dunlap's Victims didn't get Clemency, Mercy, or a Choice and He does Not Deserve Clemency regardless if it's on paper or means Anything!!!!

Brent Miller
Brent Miller

Im not voting for him. Im not at all happy with the way aided in divided this state.

Molly Breen
Molly Breen

In what way is it cowardly? Did you read the article?

Molly Breen
Molly Breen

The GOP doesn't even have anyone running capable of beating him. Get decent canadites for your party again and you may have a chance.

Molly Breen
Molly Breen

Fair enough. In my opinion being put to death is much easier on him than making him live with his actions.

Julie Miller
Julie Miller

Didn't vote for him the first time, wouldn't do it now. This is just one of the many reasons he needs to be out of office

Jay Cismaru
Jay Cismaru

Molly I'm not sure what clemency means you may be right I do think it is moral to put trash to death only if you're 100 sure that we are about Nathan

Molly Breen
Molly Breen

As soon as you use a term such as "libtard" you lose any credibility you may have had. And like many Races here and nationally the GOP needs decent candidates in order to win.

Molly Breen
Molly Breen

Not having him put to death does not mean he will be on the streets. Not saying I have an opinion either way. Just correcting peoples misunderstanding of "clemency"

Doug Hubka
Doug Hubka

Jess: The issue with Dunlap ha not come up until after he was elected. Did anyone ever ask him before that ? NO

Jess Quintana
Jess Quintana

Right. He said this only after he was elected. Keep your partisan politics going. We all suffer in the long run.

bloomburg
bloomburg

J. Hickenlooper is my kind of guy.  Tough on soft crimes, easy on hard crimes.

Dan Brown
Dan Brown

I wish some of you angry citizens would bother to read the whole article. Any politician who disagrees with what the Governor is suggesting he would do needs to grow a soul.

Dan Brown
Dan Brown

There are a lot fewer people who are Pro-life here than usual. I'm not, but the Governor, despite the misleading headline, makes a good argument.

Jay Cismaru
Jay Cismaru

Well I kind of used to like the guy but he must be morally bankrupt I would never vote for

Steve Reynolds
Steve Reynolds

Westword sure knows how to bait rightie outrage. OUTRAGE, I tell you!!!

Doug Hubka
Doug Hubka

So next time you hear someone say that politicians always say whatever will them elected, maybe you should mention that at least Hick is honest and talks from the heart.

GuestWho
GuestWho topcommenter

Is the "death penalty" ineffective because of ineffective politicians like hickenlooper that undermine the death penalty?"


The death penalty should either be used or repealed.  Why is governor hickenlooper more concerned about the sentencing of a convicted mass murderer, granting reprieve, than he is about the thousands of coloradans presently jailed for victimless crimes?

esimmons2000
esimmons2000

where's Dexter when you need him ?  fuck balls . . .


Shirley Fraser Todd
Shirley Fraser Todd

How does he think the families of the people that Dunlap murdered feel? I hink he just lost the election.

Buzz Cranfill
Buzz Cranfill

Lickenpooper and the Westword go hand in hand. Fuckin liberal pieces of shit. Unlike the Westword.

James Taylor
James Taylor

That dude shot people because a girl that worked at chucky cheese would not to date him. He needs to go down.

Rob Payne
Rob Payne

Clemency does equate freedom. Nonetheless Hick is spineless 'do nothing', and well before this threat, he was off my voting ticket.

RobertChase
RobertChase topcommenter

Colorado's Establishment is living large off those rents and perceives no problem with them whatsoever; people who don't like it can be evicted.

dudleysharp
dudleysharp

He may be happy about his actions. Do you have any evidence that he is not?

dudleysharp
dudleysharp

Of course.


Justice is the reason for the death penalty, as for all sanctions.

dudleysharp
dudleysharp

Clemency is different than commutation.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

Republicans aren't interested in the truth.  Facts aren't for conservatives.

Hot.Sauce
Hot.Sauce

Free the victimless criminals!

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

Yeah, cultservatives really want a fascist for governor.....like know liar both ways bob.  We'll get to guess which of his positions is true, and which one is the repubLIEcan lie.

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@muhutdafuga


Can't spell can you stupid?


Can't construct a sentence either can you stupid?


What does "...like know liar both ways bob."  mean?


TOO OBTUSE TO BE OF USE! 

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