DENVER (AP) – A man convicted of shooting four people to death at a Colorado pizza restaurant in 1993 will learn Wednesday the week in which state officials plan to execute him.
A judge will designate a seven-day window for the execution of 38-year-old Nathan Dunlap. The week must be between 91 and 126 days after Wednesday’s hearing – or from late July to early September.
The interim head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Roger Werholtz, will then set the day of execution within that week. It’s not known when the day will be chosen because state law doesn’t set a deadline, said Adrienne Jacobson, a spokeswoman for the department.
Dunlap was convicted of killing four employees who had been cleaning the Aurora restaurant after hours. Three of the victims were teenagers. Dunlap, then 19, had recently lost a job there.
Dunlap would be the first person executed in Colorado in 16 years, and his battle is drawing to a close at a time of high emotions and political tension surrounding gun violence nationwide.
The man who would have set Dunlap’s execution date, state corrections director Tom Clements, was shot and killed at his home on March 19, allegedly by a former inmate who later died in a shootout with Texas authorities.
James Holmes, the man accused of opening fire on a packed movie theater last July and killing 12 people, is awaiting trial on murder charges in the same suburban Denver courthouse complex where Dunlap’s hearing will take place. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Colorado this year approved laws extending background checks on gun buyers and limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines, partly in response to the theater shootings. But two weeks ago, the U.S. Senate rejected an expansion of federal background checks in the wake of the December shootings at a Connecticut school that left 26 dead.
Colorado has executed only one person in more than four decades. The state’s last execution was in 1997 when Gary Lee Davis was put to death for his conviction in a 1986 slaying. In 2003, three inmates had their death sentences commuted to life in prison without parole after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juries, not judges, should impose capital punishment.
Three men are now on Colorado’s death row – Dunlap, Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray. Each was sentenced by a jury.
Dunlap can still ask Gov. John Hickenlooper for clemency. His lawyer, Phil Cherner, said a clemency request would be submitted after the judge sets a week for an execution.
Hickenlooper’s spokesman, Eric Brown, said the governor hasn’t decided whether he would grant clemency.
– By Dan Elliott, AP Writer
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