DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper’s re-election campaign said he has no intention of revisiting his decision to provide a “temporary reprieve” to convicted killer Nathan Dunlap after controversial comments on clemency made by the Democratic governor.
In a taped interview with CNN earlier this year obtained by right-leaning commentary site Complete Colorado, Hickenlooper said of the death penalty debate: “If that becomes a political issue ... there’s a period of time between the election, and the end of the year where individuals can make decisions, such as a governor can.
“The issue that a political campaign would make a human life into ... a political football is unacceptable,” Hickenlooper continued in the interview. “If they did do that, and if somehow they won, there are obviously remedies that the governor can do. ... I could give it a full clemency between election day.”
The comments were made public Saturday morning on “The Craig Silverman Show” on 710 KNUS. CNN’s special series, “Death Row Stories,” is expected to air in September but a date has not been set.
Hickenlooper has been attacked by Republicans since his 2013 executive order concerning Dunlap, in which the governor granted a “temporary reprieve” from execution.
The governor could have signed off on Dunlap’s execution or granted clemency and commuted the death sentence to life in prison without parole. But instead, Hickenlooper granted the reprieve, which caused Republicans and some Democrats to raise questions about his ability to lead. They suggested that he simply punted without offering closure to the families of victims.
A “temporary reprieve” means Hickenlooper can change his decision, or a future governor can also change the order. Republican challenger Bob Beauprez has vowed to sign Dunlap’s execution order, if elected.
On Monday, Hickenlooper campaign spokesman Eddie Stern said Hickenlooper has no intention of revisiting the Dunlap move.
“He expressed his position on the clemency issue in May of 2013 when he signed the executive order on this matter, and his position has not changed since then,” said Stern. “In this interview and in response to that specific line of hypothetical questioning, he is discussing the legal options that are provided in the state’s constitution.”
The Dunlap move was especially controversial because of the high-profile nature of the crime. Dunlap was convicted of killing four people in an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant in 1993.
Hickenlooper himself described the reactions of some victims’ families to his reprieve as “largely disappointment.” He acknowledged that execution would have brought many of those families closure, but he said he simply couldn’t do it.
Beauprez spokesman Allen Fuller was astonished that Hickenlooper would describe the Republican push to execute Dunlap as purely political.
“It’s pretty shocking how blunt he is about Nathan Dunlap being a tool to push for a repeal of the death penalty, then turns around and says if defeated in November, he would offer Dunlap full clemency. Then has the gall to chide his opponents against using Dunlap as a ‘political football,’” Fuller said.
When Hickenlooper granted the reprieve, he said the move offered an opportunity to examine the death penalty in Colorado, which comes with many political ramifications.
“Part of the question was around this case, but also around the death penalty,” Hickenlooper said at the time. “Is it just and moral? We make a decision to take this person’s life. Is it a benefit to the world?”
During the 2013 legislative session, Hickenlooper threatened to veto a bill that would have repealed capital punishment in Colorado. The governor said he felt the measure was coming too soon without enough stakeholder input.
In a recent interview with KDVR-TV Fox31 Denver, Hickenlooper indicated he has evolved on the death penalty since his 2010 campaign. The governor now officially opposes capital punishment.
Beauprez’s camp said it would be releasing an ad Monday highlighting Hickenlooper’s comments in contrast with the wishes of families of Dunlap’s victims.
In a statement Aug. 18, Beauprez said Hickenlooper’s reprieve questions leadership and justice.
“If he truly does oppose the death penalty, he should have commuted Nathan Dunlap’s sentence instead of leaving the decision to the next governor,” Beauprez said. “These families have waited decades for justice, and today, we hear more words and no action that brings them closure to the horrific events of Dec. 14, 1993.”
This story has been corrected since its original version to reflect the correct air date of the show on CNN.