Hickenlooper’s “reprieve” for Nathan Dunlap shows a lack of clarity on the death penalty

After being fired from his job, Nathan Dunlap brutally murdered four of his former co-workers at a fast food restaurant 15 years ago.  A jury gave him the death penalty for this crime. It is an extremely rare event in Colorado for juries to hand out death sentences, even when the crime is extremely vicious, aggravated and utterly without mercy for innocent human life.  This jury was apparently moved by the facts of this case.

Having exhausted all appeals, and then exhausting them again, and then again a third time, Dunlap’s execution finally appeared that it might really happen, and was set for three months from now.  He and his lawyers have been trying to get Hickenlooper to commute his sentence to life imprisonment.

The Governor was not ready to grant clemency because he was studying the death penalty.  He studied it, but apparently he can’t figure it out. So he granted a reprieve, which doesn’t commute  Dunlap’s death sentence but prevents it from being carried out unless some future governor reverses the reprieve.  In other words, Hickenlooper kicked the can down the road.  Down the road far enough so that some other governor will have to deal with it. Hickenlooper just can’t decide what to do.  Without  further specification, he declares that Colorado’s death penalty law is an “inequitable system.”

Without any explanation as to just what facts or occurrences have exposed that the system is inequitable it’s not possible to know what the governor is talking about.  He probably doesn’t know either.  There are facts known to all that do show a system that is highly inequitable.  These are facts that don’t bother the governor, though.  Holding someone on death row for an indefinite term that has already reached 15 years and now promises to go on for many more years, is manifest cruelty.  The cruelty to the families of Dunlap’s victims by forcing them to witness the interminable delay in carrying out a death sentence is even worse.

It is an unanswered question whether commuting Dunlap’s death sentence would have been a bigger slap in the face to the families than this open-ended reprieve.

Hickenlooper ran for Governor in 2009 on a platform of support for the death penalty.



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