Convicted killer Nathan Dunlap execution on hold, but arguments in case continue

Dunlap given execution reprieve in May

AURORA, Colo. - Prosecutors are taking steps now to ensure that convicted killer Nathan Dunlap’s attorneys don’t overly delay his execution, if a new governor lifts the reprieve granted by existing Governor John Hickenlooper.

Today, they asked Chief Judge William Blair Sylvester to resolve anticipated defense motions expeditiously.

Dunlap was sentenced to death for the August 1993 killings of four people at a Chuck E. Cheese pizza restaurant in Aurora.

He was granted a reprieve last month by Governor John Hickenlooper, who said he had doubts about the fairness of Colorado’s death penalty.

Prosecutors say that Dunlap’s attorneys will no doubt file motions once a new governor’s decision is imminent.

They want those motions dealt with ahead of time, when possible, to save time and to help the victim’s families.

“There’s no reason to delay two years or more to answer a lot of these legal questions,” said Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler.

When asked what some of those legal questions might be, Brauchler said, “A lot of them are going to be driven by the defense.”

Defense attorney Phil Cherner told 7NEWS that the prosecution’s request doesn’t make sense.

“The government wants to proceed with some yet to be filed motions dealing with hypothetical issues that are yet not ripe and frankly can’t be decided in any event,” Cherner said.

But Brauchler countered that the defense’s outlook is a stalling tactic.

“As you know,” Brauchler said, “the defense is hired, not to get to a just outcome, but to keep their client alive as long as possible.  By not litigating these issues now, their hope is once this reprieve is lifted by a future governor or maybe this governor changes his mind, then they’ll have the opportunity to string out this execution by filing these motions at a later date.”

When asked what his next step will be, Cherner said, “I don’t know, in a global sense, because it’s going to be a long time before we have to do anything.  The judge will issue an order in a week and he may have a different opinion. Right now, we’re in a holding pattern and could be for some time.”

Prosecutors want Judge Sylvester, who handles juvenile cases, to keep the case in his court so that motions that are filed can be dealt with quickly.

The judge said he will take the issue under advisement and will issue a written opinion in the next week or so.

When asked how is client is doing, Cherner replied, “It’s an anxiety producing time for him as well as it is for all of us, and no doubt for the victims too.”

Brauchler said he doesn’t care.

“I have very little sympathy or pity for a man who murdered four people, and tried to murder a fifth, 20 years ago,” Brauchler said. “He made comments after he was convicted that he wanted them dead, and they’re dead.  He’s a cold blooded killer and I don’ t shed a single ear for whatever angst he feels sitting in prison wondering if this sword of Damocles is ever going to drop over his head.”

Dunlap was a former employee when he walked into a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant 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.

Clemency would have changed Dunlap's sentence to life without parole, whereas, the indefinite reprieve means that Dunlap will not be executed until Hickenlooper or another governor lifts it. However, Hickenlooper said he believed it was highly unlikely that he would revisit his decision.

"We're not overturning that (the death penalty), but I recognize as governor I could not find the justice in making that decision (to allow the execution)," Hickenlooper said.

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