Nathan Dunlap: Mom of victim Ben Grant latest to call for killer to die

We've been covering a clemency bid by Nathan Dunlap, who killed four people at a Chuck E. Cheese in 1993; see our previous coverage below.

Yesterday, we shared a letter to Governor John Hickenlooper by a woman who was scheduled to work at the restaurant on the fateful evening but took the night off instead; she urged him to go forward with the execution. Today comes a similar statement from the mom of a co-worker who wasn't so fortunate. She, too, thinks the appropriate sentence is death.

As we've reported, Dunlap, who had been fired from his job at the restaurant, arrived at his former workplace and shot five people: Margaret Kohlberg, fifty, Sylvia Crowell, nineteen, Ben Grant and Colleen O'Conner, both seventeen, and Bobby Stephens, twenty. Only Stephens survived, but he suffered terrible injuries.

Dunlap was arrested within hours of the shootings and convicted in 1996, with the jury opting for capital punishment. He's been on death row ever since, but earlier this month, his execution date was finally set for the week of August 18-24.

Within days of that development, Dunlap's representatives formally submitted a clemency request to Hickenlooper. Arguments made for changing his sentence from death to life without the possibility of parole include mental issues that were't properly diagnosed or treated until 2006. The document, which is on view below in its entirety, maintains that three of the jurors who voted for death wouldn't have done so had they known about his condition.

The aforementioned letter-writer, who's chosen to remain anonymous, doesn't buy that. Now a nurse, she says Dunlap never showed symptoms associated with the sort of bipolar disorder from which he's said to have suffered during the time of their acquaintance. In her view, only death can extinguish the evil within him.

A similar theme is struck by Sandi Rogers, the mother of Ben Grant. Her statement, like the letter, was shared by the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office, which continues to ratchet up the pressure on Hickenlooper to let the execution take place.

According to the DA's office, Rogers "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 continues, adding, "I honestly think if (you) had been there, you would have no doubt the decision for death."

Here's a photo of Ben Grant, followed by our previous coverage.

Continue for our previous coverage of Nathan Dunlap's clemency bid and responses from a massacre survivor, including photos and more. Original post, 6:37 a.m. May 13: Last week, we shared the details of a clemency bid by Nathan Dunlap, who killed four people at a Chuck E. Cheese in 1993; see our previous coverage below. Dunlap's execution has been scheduled for the week of August 18-24, and the Araphaoe County District Attorney's Office is ratcheting up the pressure on Governor John Hickenlooper to let it go forward via a letter from a former restaurant employee who was originally scheduled to work on the night Dunlap took so many lives. See it below.

The onetime staffer doesn't use her name. She notes that "I prefer to remain anonymous, out of the public eye." However, she describes herself as "a survivor of the Chuck E. Cheese massacre. I was supposed to work on December 14, 1993...."

The woman writes that she had multiple encounters with Dunlap "from work, school and socially," with that latter playing out by way of him pursuing a relationship with her. She once attended a party at his home with him because, she writes, "I was scared to turn him down" -- and seeing the kinds of people who were present, and the games they played (including, if memory serves, "Russian roulette with loaded guns") only increased her fear.

She had similarly frightening encounters with Dunlap at the restaurant and knew he was "furious" when he was fired. But she escaped dying at his hand because she was babysitting the night he came into the eatery and shot the five individuals on hand. Only one survived.

Later in the letter, the woman reveals that she is now a nurse, and based on her medical experience, and that gleaned from observing family and friends with bipolar disorder, she argues that Dunlap didn't show any classic symptoms of the condition -- one of the main reasons for mercy cited in his clemency appeal.

"He never had highs and lows, his outburst[s] weren't occasional and he was never unpredictable," she maintains. "He was always a vindictive, evil and mean dark person."

The reason for the letter, which is addressed to Hickenlooper? In her words, "I ask you, please do not grant Nathan Dunlap clemency from the consequences he was given for his actions, This is a horrible act and something that he is proud of and has no remorse for. He needs to face the consequences he was given for his actions and I pray after all of this time it will be done and the healing can continue for all that have been affected."

See the complete letter below, followed by our previous coverage.

Nathan Dunlap Clemency Request: Chuck E. Cheese Employee Letter

Continue for our previous coverage of Nathan Dunlap's clemency request. Original post, 12:50 p.m. May 8: The decision by attorneys for accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes to enter a not guilty by reason of insanity plea seems motivated mainly by an effort to avoid the death penalty.

Those representing Nathan Dunlap, convicted of killing four people at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in 1993, are taking a different tack. They're asking Governor John Hickenlooper to grant clemency based on factors such as mental illness, his troubled upbringing and the "broken" death penalty system.

There's no denying the brutality of Dunlap's crime, which is vividly depicted in "The Politics of Killing," a 2008 article in 5280 hooked to the possibility of Bill Ritter, Hickenlooper's predecessor as governor, deciding to go the clemency route -- which he didn't.

Four employees at the restaurant -- Margaret Kohlberg, fifty, Sylvia Crowell, nineteen, and Ben Grant and Colleen O'Conner, both seventeen -- were shot to death by Dunlap, while a fifth, twenty-year-old Bobby Stephens, was grievously wounded but survived. Here's an excerpt from the 5280 piece, based on Stephens's account:

Sylvia didn't even hear the intruder come up behind her. Silently, he raised the .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol to her left ear and squeezed.


As she fell, he looked away. He couldn't stomach the sight of gore and blood. He moved quickly to where Ben was vacuuming.


The bullet entered near Ben's eye, lodging in his brain as he fell to the ground.

Colleen saw him coming. He was a boy with a gun; he had too-big brown eyes above hollowed cheeks and a mouth that twisted in a half-smile. Kneeling in front of him, she begged for her life, raising her arms, her fists clenched, as he held a gun just 18 inches from her head.

"Don't shoot," she cried. "I won't tell."

"I have to," the shooter said as he pulled the trigger again.

It didn't take cops long to track down Dunlap, then nineteen, who'd eaten dinner at the restaurant earlier in the evening. He was finally convicted in 1996 and sentenced to die for his crimes.

He's lingered on death row since then, with plenty of legal machinations surrounding him -- but earlier this month, an execution date was set for the week of August 18-24. That was followed by a petition for executive clemency, which offers a plethora of reasons why Hickenlooper should grant it. The entire document is below, but here's a breakdown.

The request begins with criticisms of the death penalty and the way it's utilized in this country. Bishop James Gonia of the Lutheran Evangelical Church believes that "executions harm society by mirroring and reinforcing existing injustice. The death penalty distracts us from our work toward a just society. It deforms our response to violence at the individual, familial, institutional, and systemic levels. It perpetuates cycles of violence." Likewise, Nita Gonzales and Gene Lucero of the Colorado Latino forum maintain that "race and class should not be the consistent determinants of who gets executed."

Continue for more about Nathan Dunlap's clemency petition. Then, former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Jean Dubofsky, representing twelve other ex-judges, gets specific about Dunlap. She writes:
"Assuming that the death penalty may sometimes be appropriate, there is no principled reason for it to be applied in the circumstances of this case. Nathan Dunlap's mental illness is being controlled with appropriate medication. He should be punished for his crimes, not by being put to death, but by spending the rest of his life in prison."

From there, the document offers a statement of regret from Dunlap. In his words, "I'm sorry for the pain and suffering I've caused the victims' families and friends, Bobby Stephens and his family and friends, and my family and friends. I'm sorry for the hate that I've created. I'm sorry for the loss of life. The loss of friends, family and loved ones. I'm just sorry for everything that happened on December 14, 1993, and the ripple effect that followed.... I know saying, writing and feeling sorry isn't enough and I wish there was something more that I could do to relieve any pain."

At that point, clemency petition authors Madeline S. Cohen and Philip A. Cherner lay out the basics of their argument:

There are many reasons to spare Nathan Dunlap, and there is no principled reason to execute him. He has been safely housed in prison for nearly twenty years, and he poses no danger to others. His execution will have no deterrent effect, and his case involves the same problems of racial bias, arbitrariness, and geographical disparity that have led to calls for the repeal or reform of Colorado's death penalty.

Nathan Dunlap's childhood was characterized by extreme physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The jury that sentenced him to death knew nothing of his serious mental illness, or the role of that illness in his commission of the murders. Nathan Dunlap -- then 19 years old -- was in the grip of his first full-blown manic phase when he committed his terrible crime.

The mental-health arguments take up a large portion of the document. Dunlap is said to come from a family that's struggled against such issues for five generations, with his mother, Carol Dunlap, suffering from bipolar disorder that terrified her children.

Continue for more about Nathan Dunlap's clemency petition. Nathan, too, exhibited signs of mental illness, the authors say, but his condition wasn't properly diagnosed. One reason: "Carol Dunlap actively interfered with the rehabilitative process during...out-of-home placements. For example, she terminated the family's counseling sessions, apparently to avoid inquiry into the 'family secrets' of physical and sexual abuse."

Here's a passage about the latter, with additional references to Nathan's sister, Adinea, and his father Jerry, described as a onetime professional football player:

Growing up while coping with a parent's mental illness is challenging in its own right. For young Nathan the challenges didn't stop there. Both Carol and Jerry Dunlap were physically violent towards the children, especially Adinea and Nathan. The kids would receive severe beatings with belts, fists, and wooden rods for such infractions as leaving soapy water in the sink after washing dishes or taking doughnuts from the breakfast area at a motel where the family was staying. It is no wonder that Adinea called her home a "living hell."
According to the document, Dunlap was in a manic phase when he committed the murders. But after his arrest, his mental issues weren't treated, and this remained the case until 2006, the petition maintains. Since he began receiving lithium, however, he's said to have stabilized and is no longer a threat to those around him.

The petition also says that three of Dunlap's original jurors now say that had they known he was mentally ill, they wouldn't have voted for his execution.

Also up for scrutiny by the authors is the death penalty itself, which they argue is disproportionately imposed on people with a number of characteristics that Dunlap happens to share:

The mitigating circumstances of Mr. Dunlap's case, particularly the facts that his sentencing jury was not told about his mental illness, and that he poses no danger to others in prison, warrant clemency. Mr. Dunlap's case also warrants clemency because it reflects all of the problems that plague Colorado's broken death-penalty system.

Nathan Dunlap committed a terrible crime, and he should spend the rest of his life in prison. But like all others on Colorado's death row, he is a young African-American man who committed murder in Arapahoe County. Imposition of the death penalty in this State turns on those arbitrary and biased factors of race,youth, and geography, and not the facts of a particular crime.

And then there are the costs associated with the death penalty, which one source estimates "at least 25 times as much per year as a non-death-penalty case," the petition allows.

And how much has Dunlap's death sentence cost Colorado taxpayers thus far? The authors cite estimates of "more than $18 million over the past 19.5 years," adding, "Most of those millions could have been saved if the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office had accepted Mr. Dunlap's 1994 offer to plead guilty in exchange for four consecutive sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole."

Will these arguments persuade Hickenlooper? On one hand, he has talked plenty about keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill in the context of gun control. On the other, he'll be making his decision against the backdrop of the Holmes prosecution, in which twelve people were killed and seventy were injured -- even more carnage than Dunlap created on a December in 1993.

Here's the clemency petition:

Nathan Dunlap Petition for Executive Clemency

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "James Holmes, accused Aurora theater shooter, plans to plead not guilty by reason of insanity."

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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