DENVER – Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper triggered a firestorm of controversy on Wednesday when he issued an executive order preventing the execution of convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap. The order, described as a “temporary reprieve,” will likely keep Dunlap alive – at least for the duration of Hickenlooper’s term.
Hickenlooper took aim at the death penalty itself in a statement, describing it as an “inequitable system,” echoing his Chief of Staff Roxane White, who posted controversial statements on Twitter earlier this month suggesting that the capital punishment was racist and inhumane.
Dunlap murdered four of his former co-workers in 1993 at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese restaurant. Three of those who died were teenagers, and one was a 50-year-old mother. Another employee was wounded in the attack.
In his order sparing Dunlap’s life, Hickenlooper argued that Colorado “is not immediately equipped to carry out a death sentence,” and implied that Colorado should follow the example of other states in putting an end to capital punishment.
“Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois and New Mexico recently repealed the death penalty. There are now 18 states without the death penalty and 7 of the states with the death penalty (including Colorado) have not carried out an execution in at least 10 years,” read Hickenlooper’s statement. “There has been a moratorium on executions in California for more than 6 years due to concerns regarding the constitutionality of their execution procedures.”
Hickenlooper also suggested that the death penalty violates the human rights of convicted killers like Dunlap, and implied that the U.S. should outlaw it.
“Internationally, the United States is one of only a handful of developed countries that still uses the death penalty as a form of punishment,” Hickenlooper’s statement continued. “Approximately two-thirds of countries worldwide have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, largely due to concerns regarding human rights violations.”
“As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun said, ‘The death penalty experiment has failed,’” Hickenlooper added.
Families of the victims and District Attorney George Brauchler blasted the decision.
“The knife that’s been in my back for 20 years was just twisted by the governor,” Bob Crowell told the Denver Post.
Crowell’s daughter Sylvia was one of those murdered by Dunlap.
“One person will go to bed with smile on his face [tonight] and that’s Nathan Dunlap,” added Brauchler. “And that’s due to one person: Governor Hickenlooper.”
Hickenlooper’s reprieve is temporary, however, and does not settle the issue.
His order could theoretically be “modified or rescinded” by a future governor — all but guaranteeing that the death penalty will be front-and-center during the 2014 election cycle.
Several Republicans are reportedly considering a challenge to Hickenlooper next year, including former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, and State Senator Greg Brophy of Wray.