Left-leaning Outlet In CO Says Hickenlooper 'Making Stuff Up' On Death Penalty

Death penalty discussion 'never happened under Hick's watch'—'not even close'

John Hickenlooper / Getty Images
April 15, 2019

A left-of-center news outlet in Colorado says presidential candidate and former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper is exaggerating his track record on the death penalty while on the campaign trail.

The death penalty has been a significant policy issue for Colorado over the last decade as Democrats have sought to repeal the punishment in the state.

The left-leaning Colorado Independent said the former two-term governor "started flat-out making stuff up when he went on to suggest that, as governor, he encouraged a broad dialogue about capital punishment, its effectiveness and whether it's being meted out fairly."

In May of 2013, the execution of Nathan Dunlap was fast approaching. Dunlap had been convicted of killing four people and seriously injuring another in a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in 1993.

Rather than commute the sentence, Hickenlooper issued a "temporary reprieve," meaning Dunlap's execution would only be put on hold, and the next governor could potentially lift the reprieve and allow the execution to go forward.

"He did not make a decision," former state Republican chairman Dick Wadhams told the Washington Free Beacon last month. "He found a third way that I don't think anybody was aware existed, and that is: Kick it to your successor."

After issuing the Dunlap reprieve, Hickenlooper said he wanted to use the moment to engage in a "statewide" conversation, something he's now selling on the presidential campaign trail as part of his record of being a consensus-builder.

"What we've done in Colorado is a statewide conversation on the death penalty, and I mean it doesn't deter," he said recently on CNN. "I mean of the states that got rid of the death penalty 40 years ago have no more homicides or mass killings than states that execute people multiple times a year."

"But such a discussion never happened under Hick's watch," the Independent wrote.

"Not even close."

"He did call for one in 2013 while under scrutiny about his decision to grant Dunlap, the convicted Chuck E. Cheese killer, a temporary reprieve rather than commute Dunlap's death sentence altogether. But once scrutiny blew over and Hick was re-elected a year later, he seemed to forget about the conversation he promised and clammed up about the issue during his next four years in office."

"It is only now that the moderate seeking support among party progressives has chosen to speak out," the Indy concluded.

As the Free Beacon has previously reported, Colorado attorney David Lane, one of the most well known lawyers in the state and a long-time opponent of capital punishment, has leveled similar arguments against Hickenlooper.

Talking to a local talk-radio show in August of 2014, Lane was highly critical of the then-governor, who was just three months away from a reelection vote.

"The legislature in Colorado, last year [2013] had the votes to abolish the death penalty," Lane said on the Craig Silverman Show. "That bill was killed amazingly, and shockingly, and disappointingly by Governor Hickenlooper. He killed the bill and lobbied against it, while at the same time he was giving Nathan Dunlap a reprieve, not a commutation to life without parole."

"The governor called for a statewide conversation on the death penalty, and has studiously avoided having that conversation since he called for it," Lane said later.

The high-powered lawyer said he personally called the governor's office to volunteer to travel the state and participate in town halls as part of Hickenlooper's proposed statewide conversation.

"I never heard another word from them," he said.

The issue flared up again in 2015 during the sentencing phase for the man convicted of the Aurora Theater shooting in 2012 that killed 12 and injured scores more.

A Denver Post article that year again raised the question of how much of a statewide conversation had occurred since Dunlap's temporary reprieve.

"I'm not aware that's happened, and I think I would have been aware of it," Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, a Democrat from Denver, told the Post.

"What kind of conversation was Lucia looking for? What kind of conversation was she expecting?" Hickenlooper said in response.

In Hickenlooper's defense, the Post story also noted "the formation of the Better Priorities Initiative, aimed at ending the death penalty, and a series on capital punishment at both the Denver Seminary and the Iliff School of Theology."

Currently, Hickenlooper has promised if elected president he would suspend the death penalty at the federal level. Most other Democrat presidential candidates have also indicated their opposition to capital punishment.

Requests for comment from the Hickenlooper campaign as well as his leadership PAC were not returned.