EDITORIAL: Dunlap’s death sentence can’t lurk in the shadows of doubt

There is little doubt that anyone who so coldly murders others deserves to die. There are, however, serious doubts about whether we “deserve” to kill Dunlap.

It’s about doubt. Critical to the American justice system is that in order to ensure fairness, there can be no doubt among jurors as to the guilt of a suspect, the details of the crime and the particulars of a sentence.

In the 20 years since Nathan Dunlap walked into the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in central Aurora and viciously shot and killed four innocent people, there is no doubt he committed the murders. The case has been scrutinized for almost two decades, and never once was there any question that Dunlap coldly killed people who had nothing to do with him.

ForEdit5.9After exhausting almost every way to stop his death sentence, Dunlap’s execution has been set for August. His fate now lies with Gov. John Hickenlooper as Dunlap’s lawyers plead for clemency.

There is little doubt that anyone who so coldly murders others deserves to die. There are, however, serious doubts about whether we “deserve” to kill Dunlap.

Despite the endless and excruciating pain Dunlap caused an exponential number of Aurora victims, none of those dead or wounded, none of those devastated by the deaths of loved ones will be made whole by Dunlap’s death. As much as we, and so many, wish that we could trade the lives of murderers for the murdered, it’s not so. We are not made safer as a community by executing murderers instead of locking them up for all their lives. Nothing we can do to murderers can ever repay or even mitigate the loss of victims. Exhaustive studies have shown repeatedly that the death penalty does not deter murderers from acting. If it were true, places like Texas would be free from homicides. The death penalty is about revenge, and revenge is not justice.

That very argument — along with the reality that Colorado’s death penalty costs taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, tortures the families of victims, and is in reality never carried out — has pushed a growing majority of residents to believe that it’s time to end capital punishment in Colorado. The Centennial State is poised to become the sixth in the United States to abolish the death penalty, joining almost every other western democracy. It’s entirely likely that just months after Dunlap is executed, state lawmakers or voters will end the death penalty in the state for good.

But set that aside and consider that besides the critical requirement of “without a doubt,” our justice system is about fairness and equity. Dunlap’s seat on death row belies that fairness. Sadly, the state is all too familiar with tragic murders. But when looking at the nearly 20 most-egregious recent murder cases in Colorado, those three convicts landing on death row come only from Aurora, and are black, including Dunlap.

Undisputed studies in Colorado, and across the country, show that a wildly disproportionate number of minorities get death sentences for crimes that are no more heinous than those committed by whites. It’s almost certain that had Dunlap carried out his murderous rampage in Denver or Northglenn, he would have been sent to prison for the rest of his life, not to end his life. In fact, giving the marked change in demographics in Aurora over the past 20 years, there’s plenty of doubt prosecutors would have succeeded in getting a death sentence against Dunlap. That’s anything but fair or just. It shows how arbitrary capital punishment can be, even in a state as progressive and thoughtful as Colorado.

There is simply too much doubt about the effectiveness of the death penalty. There is too much doubt about whether Dunlap drew the sentence because of his race. There is too much doubt about whether Colorado residents have grown to see how barbaric and expensive it is. There is too much doubt about whether Dunlap’s circumstances, rather than his crimes, brought on a death sentence.

We beseech Hickenlooper and all Aurora residents to work to set aside Dunlap’s imminent execution and instead commit him to spend the rest of his life in prison. If not permanently, a stay of execution should be granted until lawmakers and voters have settled where Colorado voters are on the complicated issue of capital punishment.

To move forward on this case with so much in doubt would only add another tragic crime to those that Dunlap has wrought upon all of us.

  • BonesSenior

    Mr. Dunlap should die. It is the only way justice is served in this case. Those of us who were here in Aurora at that time served on the jury and rightly sentenced Mr. Dunlap to death. He’s had 20 years. Goodbye Mr. Dunlap.
    That is all.

  • Uli Schneider

    I oppose the death penalty in all cases. Nothing can bring back the victims Dunlap has killed. It is only a useless dead of a person. What does the society gain of his death? A feeling that jusice has been done, in a case where jusice can’t exist? A protection for future crimes, he hasn’t commited and probaly will never commit? A deterrence, that has never be proven?

  • CityDesk

    I agree with your editorial, “Dunlap’s Death Sentence Can’t Lurk In The Shadows Of Doubt.”

    As the editorial makes clear, it’s up to Governor Hickenlooper to determine whether the death sentence is carried out. I have no doubt that he must be wrestling with this life and death decision.

    Personally, I hope the Governor commutes Dunlap’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. There are just so many reasons to oppose the death penalty; most notably, as you say, it isn’t used fairly in our state, with geographic and racial bias, among other issues.

    I feel that the fairest outcome is for Nathan Dunlap to serve out his life incarcerated with no possibility for parole. The public will be safe, and the state won’t have to use this broken and unfair system in our names.

    Robert Koch

  • Death
    penalty is a clear violation of human rights and cannot be fairly applied

  • Opposed to Sentinel’s stance

    The Sentinel assumes what the vicitms and those affected by Dunlop’s actions feel. What research was done to come to that conclusion. Does the death penalty deter crime? No it doesn’t. Does gun control deter crime? No Bad people do bad things, regardless of what laws are in place. But the death penalty is not a law, it’s a penalty for violently taking another persons life. Had I been one of the victims at Chuckie Cheese I would want the SOB who selfishly took my life for peanuts to die. But you couldn’t ask me what I wanted because I’m dead…..If you want Dunlop to spend life in prison, like his family does, let them pay to keep him alive. The Sentinel can stand by their opinion to support clemency by starting a fund to keep him out of the death chamber. When the fund hits 10 Million then it should be considered. And in dispute of the opinion that no jury would have convicted him and sentenced him today should look at Mario Owens, Robert Ray and when James Homles goes to trial to place the race card.

  • skybluepink

    I would be willing to forgo an execution for Dunlap if the news media would promise NEVER to put his name in print until it is in an obit.