In the twenty years I spent with the Arapahoe County District
Attorney's Office, I prosecuted dozens of homicides, including three
death penalty cases. Based on my experiences, I believe that Colorado
does not need and should not use capital punishment to maintain our
public safety. I hope that Governor Hickenlooper commutes Nathan
Dunlap's death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of
Having worked on many homicides, visited dozens of murder scenes, and,
most importantly, spoken to many people who have committed violent
actions against others, I understand from personal experience what so
many studies show: that there is no evidence whatsoever that the death
penalty deters crime and enhances public safety.
My work experience convinces me that the threat of a death sentence
does not deter criminal activity. In my years as a prosecutor and in
my subsequent private legal practice, I have observed that some of the
most egregious crimes are committed due to mental illness,
desperation, overwhelming emotions, and political extremism -- none of
which are subject to rational cost/benefit calculations, like weighing
potential criminal sentencing consequences.
Perhaps this understanding that capital punishment doesn't deter crime
is the reason that in a 2010 poll, 500 police chiefs ranked the death
penalty as the least effective use of taxpayer money for law
enforcement purposes. I agree with those civil servants that there are
far better uses for the exorbitant public resources spent on the death
penalty, which are proven to enhance public safety and well-being.
One side of capital punishment that is rarely discussed is the
terrible toll it takes on the people involved. I can only image the
enormous burden placed on the Department of Corrections professionals
who would have to carry out the actual execution itself. I believe it
is too much for us to ask of these workers.
The death penalty is an ineffective and costly government program that
diverts resources away from public safety and places an unfair burden
on the Department of Corrections workers. When you add to this the
serious and widespread concerns that exist about Colorado's use of the
death penalty, it becomes clear that the upcoming execution of Nathan
Dunlap, scheduled for the week of August 18 - 24, which would be
Colorado's first execution in 17 years, should not go forward.
A recent academic study from the University of Denver showed that the
death penalty in Colorado is broken. It is not handed down in the
manner in which it was intended, to defendants who have committed the
most egregious crimes. It's used in fewer than 1 percent of the cases where it
could be used, and it is used in ways that reflect existing, systemic
biases in our criminal justice system.
Our system is broken. Something is clearly wrong with our state when
all the death sentences are coming out of one county. We are in a
crisis when our state, which is 4.3 percent African-American, has a death row
that is 100 percent African American. A broken system has produced flawed
One of these results is Nathan Dunlap's death sentence. That is why I
join so many other individuals and groups speaking out to support
clemency in this case. The crime he committed was horrific, and he
should spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of
parole, to ensure public safety and severe punishment for his crimes.
Yet we cannot ignore that the system that sentenced Mr. Dunlap to die
is a system in crisis. Colorado can do better; Colorado is better than
Richard Bloch was a Chief Deputy District Attorney for the Arapahoe
County District Attorney's Office from 1999 - 2004. He is now in
private practice in Denver, CO.
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