If Gov. John Hickenlooper does not grant clemency, Nathan Dunlap is scheduled to be executed by the state of Colorado the week of Aug. 18.
The so-called Chuck E. Cheese killer had lost his job at the children's entertainment restaurant in 1993. He shot three fellow teenagers and a manager to death, before stealing some game tokens and money.
It was a shocking crime that made headlines around the country. In an era of mass shootings, we're hard-pressed to believe people would hear much about it outside of Colorado today.
But Dunlap was a thug who devolved into a murderer. His chosen location was a business associated with young workers and happy little children. He also was a black teenage criminal during an era of national panic over black male crime and gang violence.
The Camera editorial board wants the governor to commute Dunlap's sentence to life in prison with no chance of parole.
We had hoped that Colorado would join a growing list of states that have repealed their death penalties. Dunlap still would be on death row if it had.
We have come to believe, however, that Dunlap is a good example of some of the very reasons we have pressed for Colorado to repeal the penalty. And for that reason, letting him die in prison -- but not through lethal injection -- is appropriate.
On Thursday, Maryland became the sixth state in just six years -- and the 18th state in the country -- to abolish the death penalty. These states have concluded that the death penalty is both capricious and racially biased.
A Denver University Law School study showed that fewer than 1 percent of recent Colorado cases that could have been tried as capital cases, were. Out of 519 cases that could have been death penalty cases under the statute, 15 were initially prosecuted that way, fewer than 3 percent. Out of those 15, only two had white defendants. And only five cases remained death penalty cases at the sentencing phase.
Colorado's black population makes up just 4.3 percent of the state. But all three men on Colorado's death row are black. All three were under the age of 21 when convicted. All three were prosecuted in Arapahoe County.
This isn't defending Dunlap at all. He has not earned one more day of freedom on this Earth. But there are so many other murderers not on death row: Jeffrey Kirk Alexander killed his girlfriend's mother, brother and niece in Denver in 1992. Michael Bell escaped from prison, then shot and killed four men in the Boulder area in 1990. Albert Petrosky killed his wife and a store manager, then a responding police officer, in Jefferson County in 1995. Edward Herrera murdered four people in Denver in 2003, by shooting them in the head in front of one of the victim's 3-year-old daughter.
It may be tempting to dismiss clemency calls from those already opposed to the death penalty. But hear us out: Nathan Dunlap is a convicted murderer whose case also happens to expose two major, fundamental flaws with the death penalty.
The death penalty is imperfect because it is so arbitrary. The death penalty has a racial bias. Those alone are reasons to abolish it in the state of Colorado -- and indeed have been cited as reasons other states have abolished their own. Other reasons include the fact that it is not a proven deterrent, and it's too expensive.
Then there is the most compelling reason to abolish it. People who are not guilty of the crimes they've been convicted of have been executed, as have people who did not have adequate counsel. The survival of the death penalty in Colorado means that chance theoretically exists. That is not the case here: Nathan Dunlap is guilty of a depraved, callous and greedy crime.
But his execution -- this one -- would be the ultimate fulfillment of a death penalty that is arbitrary and has a racial bias. If Colorado joins the rapidly expanding list of states that have eliminated the death penalty, Hickenlooper will be remembered as the governor who let a breathing example of its fundamental flaws -- flaws that should lead to its undoing -- be killed by the state.
Gov. Hickenlooper, who favors keeping the death penalty, said "it should be restricted." Obviously for a pro-death penalty governor, there is a murderer whose sentence would not be commuted under a restricted penalty, designed to be perfectly fair and just. Nathan Dunlap is not that man.
What he was: A black teenager, living and convicted in a predominately white state at a time of high anxiety over young black men. A murderer who committed a heinous crime in the only county in the state where the men currently on death row were convicted. A mass killer sentenced to death in a state where so many other heinous mass killers were not.
Gov. Hickenlooper: Let Nathan Dunlap serve the rest of his life in prison. We believe history will be on your side.
-- Erika Stutzman, for
the Camera editorial board ___
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