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Governor Ponders Clemency For Convicted Killer

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Nathan Dunlap (credit: Colorado Governor's Office)

Nathan Dunlap (credit: Colorado Governor’s Office)

DENVER (AP) – Prosecutors say Nathan Dunlap harbors evil in his heart and deserves to be executed for ambushing and killing four people in a Colorado pizzeria 19 years ago.

Defense lawyers say Dunlap was afflicted by an untreated mental illness at the time of the crime and now is remorseful for what he did. They argue he should be spared.

In the middle is Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has consulted with victims’ families, prosecutors, the defense, investigators and others as he ponders whether to grant clemency to Dunlap.

Dunlap is scheduled to be executed in August. He has exhausted all his guaranteed appeals, and his attorneys are asking Hickenlooper for clemency and filing last-ditch appeals and lawsuits.

Hickenlooper hasn’t said when he will decide.

A jury convicted Dunlap in 1996 and sentenced him to die for the shooting deaths of four employees — three of them teenagers — who were cleaning a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in the Denver suburb of Aurora after-hours.

Nathan Dunlap in court on May 1(credit: Denver Post)

Nathan Dunlap in court on May 1(credit: Denver Post)

The victims were Ben Grant and Colleen O’Connor, both 17; Sylvia Crowell, 19; and Margaret Kohlberg, 50. Co-worker Bobby Stephens, then 20, was injured but survived.

Dunlap, then 19, had recently lost a job at the restaurant.

Hickenlooper’s office said he has consulted with District Attorney George Brauchler, six other prosecutors, two defense attorneys, three investigators, a victim-witness assistant and others.

Brauchler, DA for the 18th Judicial District, where the murders and the trial took place, said Wednesday he told Hickenlooper he shouldn’t intervene.

“Twenty years of trial work and post-conviction jurisprudence have said the same thing … the outcome was fair and just,” Brauchler said.

Dunlap didn’t kill four people because he was mentally ill, Brauchler said. “That happened because he is evil,” he said.

Brauchler said Hickenlooper is acting like a “superjuror” who can overturn the verdict.

Hickenlooper’s spokesman responded that the governor’s role is defined by the state constitution and he is taking his duty seriously by listening to all sides.

Dunlap’s lawyers said their client committed a terrible crime, but the punishment should be life in prison.

They argue Colorado’s death penalty system is racially biased and that the sentence is imposed inconsistently across the state. All three people on death row are black, and all were convicted in the 18th District, which includes east and south Denver suburbs.

Brauchler dismissed claims of racial bias as “loose, wild and unsubstantiated.”

The defense also says Dunlap had bipolar disorder at the time, but it was undiagnosed and untreated. His behavior and his attitude toward his crime changed dramatically when he began getting treatment in prison in 2006, his lawyers said.

Arrogant and cold comments he made in media interviews were “the statements of somebody with untreated bipolar disorder who sees himself as a larger-than-life figure,” said Phil Cherner, another defense lawyer.

Now, “he’s regretful and he’s remorseful,” Cherner said.

Nathan Dunlap in court on May 1 (credit: Denver Post)

Nathan Dunlap in court on May 1 (credit: Denver Post)

Parents of at least two victims have confirmed they spoke with the governor — Bob and Marj Crowell, Sylvia’s parents, and Sandi Rogers, Ben Grant’s mother.

Rogers said she told Hickenlooper to let the execution go on as planned.

“He has outlived my child. He has been in prison longer than my child was on Earth,” Rogers said in a telephone interview from her home in Wisconsin.

Rogers said the night Ben died, he had helped a young child at the restaurant win a duck doll with a grappling-hook game.

“That’s the kind of a kid my son was,” she said. “Two days later, the little boy knocked on my door and gave me this duck.”

- By Dan Elliott, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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