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Gazette Premium Content EDITORIAL: Gov. Hickenlooper should decide Nathan Dunlap's fate before election

The Gazette editorial Updated: August 26, 2014 at 9:22 pm

Gov. John Hickenlooper should decide right away whether Nathan Dunlap lives or dies. No more should this man's life be a political football.

No one had a bigger stake in November's gubernatorial election than Dunlap. At least that's what everyone thought, before CompleteColorado.com found otherwise.

Dunlap, the Chuck E. Cheese mass killer, was granted an indefinite reprieve by Hickenlooper in 2013. The convict sought clemency, which would have reduced his death sentence to life in prison. By making no lasting decision, Hickenlooper had it both ways. He didn't want an execution or the political price of clemency. He managed to disappoint both sides and raised another question about his willingness to lead.

Republican nominee Bob Beauprez wants it one way. He has promised to carry out the court-ordered execution shortly after taking office. But he may not have the chance.

CompleteColorado.com obtained yet-to-air audio from an eight-part CNN series about the death penalty, hosted by Susan Sarandon and produced by Robert Redford. In it, Hikenlooper indicates he will grant Dunlap a full reprieve if he loses in November.

CNN interviewer: "Some of your opponents immediately announced that they were going to run on a death penalty platform... 'Elect me, and we'll kill this guy.' Doesn't that feel kind of like a lynch mob? I mean in some, in some sense..."

Hickenlooper interrupts: "Well we won't let that happen, I mean, that's obviously, that is - does, feel that way. And, you know, if that becomes a political issue, in that context within a campaign, um, obviously there's a period of time between the election and, and the end of the year where individuals can make decisions, such as a governor can."

Later in the discussion, another interviewer asked Hickenlooper to be more specific and "detail what you mean by what you said."

Hickenlooper answered: "Well, you don't want to go into too much detail in these cases. But, you know, the, the, issue that a political campaign would make a human life, into, you know, a political football, is unacceptable. Right? And it's not. and a) I, I think it would backfire tremendously on any candidate that did that. And if they did do that, and if somehow they won, there are obviously remedies that the governor can do, you know, I could give it a full clemency between election day and the end of the year, I could. There are a number of different opportunities to make sure that doesn't happen. Again, keeping in mind it should not be a political football."

No one has politicized Dunlap more than Hickenlooper. He wouldn't grant clemency because doing so would annoy his base. He punted. Now, if Republicans want to make an issue of it, Hickenlooper will change his decision. He'll reclaim the ball and forfeit the game, granting full clemency the moment he has no more chance of winning.

An incumbent governor who will grant clemency after he loses can be expected to do the same after he wins. He can serve only two terms, so either way he has nothing big to lose by permanently saving Dunlap.

Governor, you can't be a leader who won't make tough decisions. This attempt to have it both ways turns Dunlap and his victims into political sport. But this isn't a game. If the governor wants clemency, he should grant it now - before the election. Voters deserve to know Dunlap's fate before they determine the governor's future. They deserve the truth.

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