CENTENNIAL –A judge set the execution week for Death Row inmate Nathan Dunlap at a Wednesday hearing, but there was also some good news for the convicted mass murderer.
Roxane White, chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper, sent two messages on her Twitter account Wednesday that would seem to portend well for Dunlap’s chances of escaping the executioner.
“At the hearing to set the execution date for Nathan Dunlap. There has to be a more humane path,” said White in one tweet, which she also sent via a hashtag to the Colorado legislature feed.
A few hours earlier, she tweeted: “CO has three on death row. All from same judicial dist, all African American men from the same high school.”
White’s public criticism of Dunlap’s death sentence comes as another indication that Hickenlooper is seriously considering stopping the execution by commuting Dunlap’s sentence to life without parole. The governor told KDVR-TV last week that he was “gathering information” on the case.
If Hickenlooper does decide to intervene, he’ll have to do so over the objections of Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who has stepped up his defense of the jury’s decision in 1996 to sentence Dunlap to death.
Brauchler urged the governor Wednesday not to “inject himself” in the process, pointing out that Dunlap’s case has undergone 17 years of appellate review. Just last week, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled against a motion filed by Dunlap’s attorneys challenging the execution.
“This is justice as determined by a jury and upheld by the appellate courts, and I want to see justice done,” said Brauchler.
The governor has taken an active interest in the execution, which would be the first in Colorado since 1997. He’s expected to meet this week with prosecutors, defense attorneys and family members of the four people killed in the 1993 shooting and robbery at the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Aurora.
“It’s my fervent hope and belief that the governor is going to make a decision in this case based on justice and not political expediency, and do the right thing,” said Brauchler. “For someone who tried to murder five people and did murder four people, the right thing to do is to let justice proceed.”
Arapahoe County Chief Judge William Sylvester scheduled the week of Aug. 18-24 for Dunlap’s execution by lethal injection. The state Department of Corrections is responsible for setting the exact date and time.
Attorney Phil Cherner has said he will file a petition to have his client’s sentence commuted from death to life in prison without parole. Dunlap, 39, appeared at the Arapahoe County Courthouse Wednesday wearing black-framed glasses and long braids.
Hickenlooper has sent mixed signals on the death penalty. During his 2011 gubernatorial campaign, he said little about the issue but did tell the Denver Post that he was against a repeal of the state’s capital punishment law, although he said it should be “restricted.”
In March, he effectively killed a Democratic bill to repeal the death penalty by hinting that he would veto it. Two of his top staffers, White and Jack Finlaw, are known for their opposition to the death penalty, and Hickenlooper told KDVR-TV that the Dunlap execution was “the toughest thing I’ve had to deal with.”
Dunlap is hardly a sympathetic figure: After being fired from Chuck E. Cheese, he shot five former co-workers and stole $1,500. Three of those who died were teenagers, and one was a 50-year-old mother.
Given that Dunlap’s guilt was never in question, supporters of clemency have instead attacked the system, pointing out that all three men now on Colorado’s Death Row were prosecuted in the 18th Judicial District and that all three are black.
None of that should affect the Dunlap execution, said Brauchler. “It would be difficult to find in a case like this any place in the state of Colorado where the district attorney wouldn’t have sought the death penalty,” he said.