ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — An Arapahoe County judge is expected to set an execution date for one of Colorado’s death row inmates at a hearing Wednesday morning. But that may not be the final chapter for Nathan Dunlap, especially with political agendas on the death penalty being pushed in high places.
Dunlap has been on death row for 20 years, and recently lost his final appeal. In 1996, he was convicted of killing four people inside an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese restaurant.
Dunlap was 19 years old when he walked into the Aurora restaurant where he had been fired and killed four of his former co-workers. The victims were restaurant manager Margaret Kohlberg, 50, Sylvia Crowell, 19, Ben Grant and Colleen O’Connor, both 17.
In his failed appeal, Dunlap’s attorneys argued their client had been represented in his murder trial by incompetent lawyers who failed to introduce evidence that may have proved Dunlap’s mental instability.
The execution date is expected to be set for this summer, but there’s a chance Governor John Hickenlooper will commute the death sentence, instead giving Dunlap life without parole.
“He (Hickenlooper) is ambivalent about it now, and he’s being pushed by several people to commute the death penalty of Nathan Dunlap,” criminal defense lawyer Dan Recht said. “He may well do that.”
If he does, Recht said, it might send the state of Colorado mixed messages, especially with the looming trial of accused Aurora theater shooter, James Holmes. Prosecutors have stated intentions to will seek the death penalty for Holmes, as well.
“Would Hickenlooper also consider commuting a death penalty for James Holmes?” Recht asked. “It’s an interesting question, and it could leave people wondering about the viability of the death penalty, which of course most of the state legislature is wondering about.”