Crime

John Hickenlooper gives Nathan Dunlap reprieve from death but doesn't grant clemency

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Previous post, 9:49 a.m. May 17: The campaign to either save Nathan Dunlap from the death penalty or execute the man convicted of four brutal murders at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in 1993 has turned into something of a public-relations competition. As the Arapahoe District Attorney's Office continues to dole out statements from victims and associates who believe he deserves the ultimate punishment, Dunlap's advocates are working to humanize him even as they emphasize broad support for Governor John Hickenlooper to alter his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On December 14, 1993, as we've reported, Dunlap entered the restaurant, 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.

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 earlier this month, a week was scheduled for the completion of the sentence: August 18-24.

Now, the only thing that will prevent the carrying out of this action is a grant of clemency from Hickenlooper -- and shortly after the date-setting, Dunlap backers and death-penalty foes combined forces to formally ask that the governor do so.

In the weeks since then, the office of Arapahoe County DA George Brauchler has been steadily releasing statements arguing the opposite point. Those represented thus far include a Chuck E. Cheese worker who was supposed to have worked that evening but took the night off to babysit and the mother of Ben Grant, who begs Hickenlooper to "sit back, make no decision, allow the one that twelve people made after listening to all the evidence seventeen years ago stand.

"I wish you could have met my son, listened to all of the things said about him after this act of planned murder, the amount of love that flowed," she added. "I honestly think if (you) had been there, you would have no doubt the decision for death."

The latest person to weigh in? An unnamed juror who hasn't changed his or her mind about the verdict.

"I have lived with this for a long time," the death-penalty-backing juror's statement begins. "My feelings are if one person [Hickenlooper] has the ability to change what a juror declares, then why do we need a jury? The only reason why anybody should be able to overturn what a jury's verdict declares is because of fraud, cheating or some other injustice. As for those three jurors who all of a sudden changed there minds, I doubt it."

Actually, there's plenty of evidence showing that three of those on Dunlap's jury have a new viewpoint on the matter. The trio signed affidavits saying that had they known Dunlap suffered from serious and undiagnosed mental illness at the time of the killings (he only started receiving Lithium treatments in 2006), they wouldn't have voted for death. See one of the affidavits below, along with other documents supporting clemency -- not just a reply to DA Brauchler's arguments in favor of execution, but a letter from the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar and a narrative of Dunlap's abuse-filled upbringing featuring photos like this....

...and this: Madeline Cohen, an assistant federal public defender working on Dunlap's behalf, stresses that such material only scratches the surface of the support for clemency.

Continue for more about the clemency bid for Nathan Dunlap, including photos and documents.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts