Man On Death Row For Pizza Murders Wants New Trial

Attorneys Argue Nathan Dunlap's Mental Health

A man on Colorado's death row for killing four people at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant nearly 19 years ago asked a federal court Tuesday to overturn his death sentence.

Attorneys for Nathan Dunlap told a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Dunlap is mentally ill and that his trial lawyers failed to adequately represent him.

Paul Koehler, of the state attorney general's office, told judges that Dunlap's previous attorneys had experience in death penalty cases, KUSA-TV in Denver reported.

Dunlap was sentenced to death after he was convicted of killing three teenagers and a mother of two at the Aurora restaurant in 1993.

He's one of three men on death row in Colorado, which hasn't executed anyone in 15 years. The death sentences of six other death-row inmates have been thrown out since Dunlap was sentenced.

"Nathan Dunlap is running out of time. This is his last, best chance," said defense attorney David Lane, who isn't representing Dunlap. "If he loses here, his odds of being executed skyrocket."

One of Dunlap's victims was 19-year-old Sylvia Crowell, who was shot from behind as she helped close the restaurant for the night.

"The hurt is still going on," her father, Bob Crowell, told The Denver Post before the hearing. "And we are somewhat anxious that somebody is going to throw a monkey wrench in there and he is not going to be executed."

The 10th Circuit judges could take months to issue a ruling, and the losing side could then ask for a hearing before all the court's judges. The court's final decision could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Crime

Prosecutors said that on Dec. 14, 1993, Dunlap walked into the restaurant where he had recently been fired, sat at a table alone, ordered a sandwich, called his girlfriend, played a video game and spoke with an employee.

Prosecutors said around 9:50 p.m., Dunlap went to the men’s bathroom and waited for the restaurant to close.

At approximately 10:10 p.m. Dunlap walked back into the restaurant, approached Sylvia Crowell, 19, at the salad bar and shot her, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Dunlap then shot Ben Grant, 17, who was vacuuming, then shot Colleen O’Conner, 17.

Dunlap reportedly then went to the kitchen and shot Bobby Stephens, 19.

Prosecutors said Dunlap went into the back office and demanded manager Marge Kohlberg, 52, open the store’s safe. After she complied, prosecutors said, Dunlap shot her twice.

Dunlap took about $1,500 from the safe along with Chuck E. Cheese keychains and arcade game tokens and left, prosecutors said.

One shooting victim, Stephens, managed to run out an emergency exit, get to a nearby apartment complex and call for help.

Stephens survived, but four people died.

Dunlap was questioned by police the night of the murders and was arrested the next day. He was charged with four counts of deliberative murder, four counts of felony murder, attempted first-degree murder, attempted first-degree felony murder, first-degree burglary, first-degree assault, aggravated robbery, theft and three violent crimes.

The Colorado Supreme Court found that Dunlap’s Chuck E. Cheese murders were "cold-blooded executions" committed "with a brutal contempt for human life." The Colorado Supreme Court denied appeals in 2001 and 2007.

In 2010, the U.S. District Court found Dunlap was competently represented, fairly tried, and duly sentenced to death for having committed four vicious murders of three teenagers and a mother of two children for no intelligible reason at all.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver heard the appeal on Tuesday.

Colorado's Death Row

Dunlap is one of three men on death row in Colorado, which hasn't executed anyone in 15 years.

The death sentences of six other death-row inmates have been thrown out since Dunlap was sentenced.

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