Guest column: Justice delayed by governor is justice denied

By state Rep. Mark Waller


I am incredibly disappointed with Gov. John Hickenlooper's executive order to stay the execution of Nathan Dunlap.

With a looming execution date set for this August, the governor was left with few options regarding Dunlap's fate. He could have signed the warrant allowing the execution to move forward or he could have commuted Dunlap's sentence to life without the possibility of parole. He chose neither. Instead he granted a temporary reprieve, meaning Dunlap will likely remain on death row for the duration of Hickenlooper's administration. It's a non-decision that leaves Dunlap's fate, and the pursuit of justice by victims' families, up to the next administration.

The governor's lack of leadership results in the worst possible option for the victims' families, the integrity of our legal system, and the citizens of Colorado who have decided more than once that the death penalty is an appropriate sentencing option in our state. Though it has been almost 20 years since this horrible crime was committed, we cannot allow our memory of the victims and the grieving families that Dunlap's brutal crimes left behind to fade. Justice delayed is justice denied.

While I understand the choice to sign or not sign Dunlap's death warrant was one of the most difficult and personal decisions Hickenlooper will make during his time in office, a decision that provides closure to the victims' families would have been the right thing to do. To shirk his responsibility and duty as governor demonstrates a lack of courage, a lack of respect for the victims, and a total disregard for our judicial system and the 12 jurors who convicted the Aurora mass murderer.

When Dunlap brutally murdered 50-year-old Margaret Kohlberg, 19-year-old Sylvia Crowell, 17-year-old Ben Grant and 17-year-old Colleen O'Connor, and callously shot Bobby Stevens in the head, a nightmare began for their families that continues to this day. For 20 years, these families have waited for justice to be delivered. Now, Hickelooper's failure to make a decision will ensure their nightmare continues, at least through the end of his time in office.

If the governor had decided to commute Dunlap's sentence to life without the possibility of parole, I would have disagreed with the decision but I could have respected it. At least then the families would have had some sort of resolution to their nightmare. But it is completely unfair to say to the victims, who have doubted for nearly 20 years that justice would prevail, that they will have to wait even longer for finality in this horrible ordeal.

We expect our leaders to make tough decisions when the circumstance calls for it. We may not always agree with the decision a leader makes, but we expect it to be made. Hickenlooper's refusal to make a decision regarding the fate of Nathan Dunlap is a failure in leadership that ignores the citizens who decided capital punishment is an appropriate sentencing option, that marginalizes the judicial system that got us to this point, and — most importantly — that delays justice for the victims and families of this horrible crime.

House Minority Leader Mark Waller is a Republican representing Colorado Springs in the Colorado General Assembly. He also works as a deputy district attorney for the Fourth Judicial District in El Paso County.


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