Governor John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado did something rather extraordinary on Wednesday, when he prevented (by granting an indefinite reprieve) the execution of Nathan Dunlap. Dunlap was scheduled to be put to death during the week of August 18 for a horrible crime, the 1993 murder of four people – three teenagers and a mother of two – in an Aurora, Colorado, Chuck E. Cheese.
Hickenlooper’s reprieve was not based on anything having to do with Dunlap’s case, but was based on problems with the death penalty itself. As Hickenlooper writes:
“It is a legitimate question whether we as a state should be taking lives.”
Oregon’s Governor John Kitzhaber did something similar back in November 2011, when he used the granting of an execution reprieve to impose a blanket moratorium on executions intended to “bring about a long overdue reevaluation of our current policy and our system of capital punishment” – a reevaluation he hoped would put an end to “this compromised and inequitable system.”
Colorado’s Governor Hickenlooper states that Colorado’s death penalty has also “not been fairly or equitably imposed.” He observes that the realization that capital punishment doesn’t work is becoming more widespread, and that his state is already one of 25 that have either abolished the death penalty or not carried out an execution in 10 years. He mentions that over two thirds of the world’s countries have similarly either not executed for a decade or abolished capital punishment altogether. He points out that most religions do not support the death penalty. And he notes the practical problem (which is really a moral problem) that it is getting harder and harder to procure lethal injection drugs from pharmaceutical companies that don’t want to be involved in state killing of prisoners.
Colorado has had one execution in the last 45 years, and nearly abolished the death penalty in 2009. Hickenlooper suggests in his order, perhaps with a bit of understatement, that his decision is intended to “continue the intense conversation Coloradans are having about the death penalty.”
It certainly will.