Batter Up

I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…

There are only three men on death row in my home state. That’s about three too many, and it’s not much of a row, as rows go — more likely it should be called a triangle. The Colorado Department of Corrections likes to call it a Death Row Roster, as if it were a baseball lineup.

On deck is Nathan Dunlap, who I believe bats right with the needle. We killed our first convicted murderer in 1890, when we hanged Noverto Griego. I believe we hanged forty-four more, before we switched to gas, then thirty-two went to the chamber until the United States Supreme Court said capital punishment just didn’t seem right anymore. But vengeance won’t be stayed for long in this country, and four years later state executioners were back in business. A booming business, some places, but we’ve only killed one more in Colorado since 1976. I was pleased not to be a resident of this state, when in 1997 it pumped poison into the veins of someone who was.

I am a resident of this great state now, as is Nathan Dunlap, who this week lost his last appeal to escape the death penalty, and instead spend his probably many, many days — he is thirty-eight — in prison with no possibility of parole.

A Denver Post reporter wrote that “Death stepped closer to Nathan Dunlap on Tuesday…”

Death stepped closer to me, too, and to every Colorado resident capable of responsibility for what our government does in our name. In my name and yours, the state of Colorado may soon do to Nathan Dunlap what he did in 1993 to others: kill another human being, though in our case, in cold blood chilled by twenty years of contemplating sticking a needle in his arm.

Twenty years is a long time to think about killing a man. Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler says he remains committed to seeking execution for Dunlap.  A notable commitment, considering that when Nathan Dunlap committed his crimes, Mr. Brauchler was still in law school. He must have somehow missed Les Misérables, in any of its forms.

It may be that the one person who can take this tired and rancid cup of death from our hands is John Hickenlooper, by his power of clemency as Governor. He’s a Democrat, and a Quaker, and a politician. And while it’s common for a Democrat or a Quaker to resist the death penalty, it is far less common for a politician to put his humanity before his re-election prospects.

My hope is that it is a rare politician who now resides in the governor’s mansion.

If only for my sake, and yours.


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