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Incoherence and Cowardice on the Death Penalty

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The sitting Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, is in a heated re-election campaign.  One of the issues is his handling of the case of convicted multiple killer John Dunlap.  

Dunlap gunned down four people in a Chuck E. Cheese in Aurora in 1993.  He was sentenced to death, and the sentence has been affirmed after the usual multiple layers of review.  Nonetheless, and despite the fact that Hickenlooper originally ran for office as a death penalty supporter, he granted Dunlop a "temporary reprieve" earlier this year, saying that Dunlop would not be executed while he was in office.

In a TV interview with CNN, now reported by the Denver Post, Hickenlooper said that, should his pro-death penalty opponent, Rep. Bob Beauprez, win, he would consider granting "full clemency" to Dunlop.

It's hard to know where to begin with this story.


Let's start with the obvious:  If Dunlop deserves "full clemency," why doesn't Hickenlooper just grant it right now, rather than wait until the election is over with?

Answer:  Because if he grants clemency now, rather than this deliberately ambiguous and logically incoherent "temporary reprieve," he stands a better chance of losing.

Good grief.  Suppose a generally pro-death penalty governor running for re-election said that he was going to grant a temporary reprieve to a death row inmate, but, if he lost at the polls, the inmate would be executed the next day.  Do you think the New York Times might run a story about the mind-boggling cowardice and cynicism of such a thing?  Do you think CNN might run a five-part series with Sister Perjean holding forth?

What makes it worse, if possible, is that Hickenlooper ran as a death penalty supporter to begin with.  As the linked story notes, "Hickenlooper, a Democrat, recently said he is against the death penalty, though in his first run for governor he said he supported capital punishment."

Could someone explain that?  What, Hickenlooper hadn't thought about it when he first ran?  Was he 12 years old?

Then there's this gem:

The governor's campaign said Hickenlooper's comments during the CNN interview do not represent any altering in Hickenlooper's sentiments from the reprieve.

That is simply false.  Hickenlooper made a big deal of the temporary nature of the reprieve when he granted it, emphasizing that he was not de facto repealing the state's death penalty law.

And this:

In the interview, Hickenlooper said he didn't want the Dunlap case to become a "political football" and that "We won't let that happen." Hickenlooper told CNN it would be "unacceptable" for anyone to make the death penalty -- specifically the Dunlap case -- into a campaign point.


Oh, OK.  An issue of prepossessing moral importance about state law and the governor's authority is not a legitimate issue for public consideration in deciding who should be governor.  Far out.


And this:


"If that becomes a political issue in that context within the campaign, obviously there is a period of time between the election and the end of the year where individuals can make decisions, such as governors can," Hickenlooper said in the interview.


Is the Governor smoking some of that stuff Colorado has just made legal?  If his handling of the Dunlop sentence becomes an issue, and the voters then choose the candidate who promises to carry out the sentence the jury imposed, the thing to do is  --  ready now?  --  give a rude hand gesture to those self-same voters by acting as a lame duck to do what they rejected


At the tail end of the story is this, for the first time giving at least some detail about what Dunlop did:


Dunlap was 19 when he went to the Chuck E. Cheese's where he once worked and killed three teenage employees, Ben Grant, Sylvia Crowell and Colleen O'Connor, and their 50-year-old manager, Margaret Kohlberg, who were closing the restaurant.

He also shot and seriously wounded a fifth employee, Bobby Stephens, and made off with about $1,500 in cash and game tokens.

The Beauprez campaign released Monday an Internet ad highlighting Hickenlooper's comments and their contrast to the wishes of the victims' families.


In my view, Hickenlooper's stance on this matter remarkably combines the worst of incoherence, duplicity, outright lying and ham-handed censorship (sniffing that discussing-the-death-penalty-is-an-unworthy-"political football")  --  and that's before you get to the merits.


Colorado  --  indeed anywhere  --  deserves better.

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