Colorado Governor Grants Execution Reprieve: ‘It Is A Legitimate Question’ Whether State Should Be Taking Lives

After an outcry from judges, professors, and other community leaders about the unjust and discriminatory imposition of the death penalty in Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) agreed to indefinitely grant reprieve to death row inmate Nathan Dunlap, citing his uncertainty about the death penalty generally, and not his opposition to this particular execution. His order reads:

It is a legitimate question whether we as a state should be taking lives. Because the question is about the use of the death penalty itself, and not about Offender No. 89148, I have opted to grant a reprieve and not clemency in this case.

Hickenlooper also said Colorado’s system is flawed, citing a study that showed the death penalty was applied inconsistently. Hickenlooper’s announcement comes several months after the failure of a bill to abolish the death penalty. Ironically, the bill died after Hickenlooper suggested he might veto it, but the movement to expose Colorado’s broken death penalty system did not. In letters imploring Hickenlooper to commute Dunlap’s sentence, members of the NAACP exposed statistics that the three individuals on Colorado’s death row are all black, all from the same one county, and all committed their crimes before they turned 21. A group of judges lamented that Dunlap’s trial was rife with error, with Dunlap’s lawyer never even raising his history of bipolar disorder and psychotic tendencies.

Hickenlooper’s grant of a reprieve rather than clemency means that John Dunlap’s execution will be on hold until another executive order, according to the Denver Post. But Hickenlooper said it was “highly unlikely” he would revisit the decision, although another governor might. The decision means that Colorado is, in effect, not imposing the death penalty, and Hickenlooper’s public opposition may lead to a revival of legislation to officially abolish it. Eighteen other states have abolished the punishment, which data shows is disproportionately and arbitrarily applied and does not deter violent crime.