Judge sets execution window for Nathan Dunlap in Chuck E. Cheese killings

CENTENNIAL, Colo. - A judge has decided the execution for condemned killer Nathan Dunlap will take place during the week of August 18 to 24. The Department of Corrections will be responsible for selecting the exact date and time.

The judge will also give the defense a chance to argue that the execution is cruel and unusual punishment because Dunlap has been in prison for so long.

"We will not stop trying to save Mr. Dunlap's life now or next week or the week after," said Phil Cherner, Dunlap's attorney. "We represent a very remorseful client, and it is a tragedy that this thing is moving forward."

Dunlap was a 19-year-old former employee when he walked into a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Aurora in 1993 at closing time and shot five people in the head, before taking $1,500 from a safe. Three teenagers and a mother of two died. One person survived the shooting.

Dunlap had recently been fired from the restaurant.

"A little over 20 years ago, Nathan Dunlap started terrorizing South Aurora with a series of holdups, armed robberies, a kidnapping and drive-by shootings," said former prosecutor Jim Peters, referring to crimes that took place before the shootings at Chuck E. Cheese.

Peters said Dunlap had been involved in a number of treatment programs before the shootings.

"He had all the benefits that our society could give to him, and then after that what he decided to do was walk into a Chuck E. Cheese, wait until everybody left and then come out firing," said Peters. "He has never expressed remorse. He's only said that it felt better than sex and they're all stupid. There are very few cases in my mind that warrant the death penalty, and this is one of them."

SLIDESHOW - Dunlap in court: http://ch7ne.ws/18rt58Q

Arapahoe County Chief Judge William Sylvester announced his decision after taking an hour to consider arguments from the attorneys involved in the case.

The defense had argued that it is improper to set an execution until Dunlap completes serving his sentence for a 1993 robbery. That would delay the execution until late 2022.

The defense also argued an ongoing civil case and cases questioning the death penalty itself should be resolved before Dunlap's execution is scheduled.

Prosecutors countered by saying it wasn't appropriate to delay a sentence based on other cases.

"Nathan Dunlap received the fairest of trials, had the best of lawyers, and there is only one sentence that's appropriate for him, and that's death," said Eva Wilson, a special prosecutor in the case, after the hearting.

On April 25, the Colorado Court of Appeals rejected an argument by Dunlap attorneys' that the state improperly developed the lethal injection execution procedure without public input. The appeals court ruled the lethal injection procedure falls under the duties of the prisons director and don't require public input.

Dunlap's defense attorney Phil Cherner said he had filed objections to the judge setting an execution week on Wednesday.

But victims' family members say justice is overdue.

Bob and Marj Crowell’s daughter, Sylvia, died in the shootings, and they were in court during Wednesday's hearing in a Centennial courtroom.

"At this point, we'll have to see what happens because we've had so many hearings and delays, but it's nice to have a date at least to work with," said Marj Crowell.

The Crowells said the years and years of appeals have been emotionally draining, but they are relieved the end is finally in sight. However, they are concerned because Gov. John Hickenlooper's office has contacted them and scheduled an appointment to meet with them Friday.

Cherner said he planned to file a petition for clemency. Hickenlooper's spokesman said the Governor has not yet made a decision in the case.

The Arapahoe County District Attorney, George Brauchler, said the Governor need do nothing to allow justice to occur.

"The idea that a Governor who ran on the support of the death penalty would chose to inject himself in this process in a way that he does not have to, to take this away from voters, to take it away from the jurors who served on this case, that is an injustice," said Brauchler.


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