Moments ago, Governor John Hickenlooper announced his decision regarding the scheduled execution of Nathan Dunlap, who was convicted in 1996 of killing four people and seriously wounding a fifth during an assault three years earlier at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant.
Rather than granting clemency, as had been requested by those supporting Dunlap, Hickenlooper chose to offer a reprieve -- a temporary delay that can be reversed by a future governor if he or she so chooses.
News leaked about Hickenlooper's decision in the hour prior to his scheduled 2 p.m. press conference (which got underway a few minutes late), apparently thanks to District Attorney George Brauchler, a death penalty advocate who felt that Dunlap deserved the ultimate discipline. He confirmed to 7News and other news agencies that Hickenlooper had chosen to grant a reprieve -- a decision with which he wholeheartedly disagrees.
Copies of the executive order confirming Brauchler's statements were circulated in the moments before Hickenlooper walked to the podium in the west foyer of the State Capitol.
|A look at the executive order.|
Among the questions Hickenlooper asked himself in considering what he would do included mulling whether the death penalty was "just or moral?" and "a benefit to the world." The more he studied the topic, the more he concluded that the system was imperfect -- and given the seriousness of the subject, "it really needs to be perfect."
He stressed that he had no doubt about "the heinous nature of the crimes committed," but he was troubled by "the inequity of the system."I am deeply respectful of the suffering and loss that occurs," he said. "But it's hard to see...the benefit of the capital punishment system" -- one that takes fifteen to twenty years to wind through the court system and "extends the emotional hardship for those families... "
In the end, he realized that he couldn't in good conscience give the go-ahead to "kill someone who is no risk to society."
At the same time, Hickenlooper said he didn't feel comfortable taking "the larger step" of granting full clemency. He viewed the reprieve as a way to show "respect to all the jurors and judges and prosecutors...respect to the rule of law in the State of Colorado."
After his opening statement, Hickenlooper took a number of questions. He characterized the reaction of family members of those killed by Dunlap as "largely disappointment... The majority of the families really did feel they'd get closure from an execution."
Also against capital punishment, he said, was Tom Clements, the Department of Corrections head assassinated earlier this year, presumably by recent parolee Evan Ebel. "He was a pretty hardass, tough head of corrections," Hickenlooper stressed. "But he was adamantly against the death penalty. He and his wife, Lisa, were against the death penalty, and Lisa's still against the death penalty, even after what happened to her husband."
Clements's argument against capital punishment at a meeting a year or so ago "affected everybody in the room," Hickenlooper recalled. The next governor of Colorado can choose to lift Dunlap's reprieve, Hickenlooper pointed out -- so he didn't take the decision away from him or her. Still, he doubts that his successor will reverse course.
"I think it's more likely, and this is my bias, having spent this amount of time immersed in the issue, that as the facts get out, more and more people in the State of Colorado will say, 'This isn't the best solution....' Maybe the better solution would be to get people off the streets and give them life without parole and stop talking about it."