Justice in Colorado

On May 23rd, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper announced that he was granting a “temporary reprieve” to Nathan Dunlap, a man whose approaching execution date renewed critical concerns about the racial bias inherent in Colorado’s death penalty system.

The announcement means that Dunlap -- convicted in 1993 by a jury that contained not a single person of color – will not face execution for as long as Hickenlooper is Governor.

During his press conference in the Capitol Rotunda, Gov. Hickenlooper said:  

Colorado’s system of capital punishment is imperfect and inherently inequitable. Such a level of punishment really does demand perfection.

The NAACP Colorado Montana Wyoming State Conference, the Colorado Latino Forum and other civil and human rights organizations,  lobbied the Governor for weeks to halt Mr. Dunlap’s scheduled August 18 execution and grant him clemency--citing concerns about racial bias, geographic bias, age bias and other concerns.

The only three persons on Colorado’s death roware African-American males--all were sentenced to death as young people and all are from the same county.

Colorado has a population that is about 4 percent African-Americanbut a death row population that is 100 percent African-American. This reality alone was enough to compel the NAACP to speak forcefully – not only in favor of clemency for Mr. Dunlap – but in favor of complete repeal of the state’s death penalty.

The order which grant’s Mr. Dunlap’s reprieve from execution will remain in effect until it is modified or rescinded by a future executive order.  The NAACP State Conference worked closely with Philip Cherner and Madeline Cohen, attorneys for Mr. Dunlap, to move the Governor to action that would save Mr. Dunlap’s life and help move the state to repeal, a policy effort that inexplicably failed in the 2013 Colorado legislative session.

The Governor also proposed a statewide conversation on repeal of the death penalty. NAACP State Criminal Justice Chair Attorney Dawn L. Williams made this statement shortly after the Governor’s announcements:

As a thirty-something Coloradan of African-American descent, I’m thankful for Governor Hickenlooper’s decision to stay the execution of Nathan Dunlap.
Carrying out Mr. Dunlap’s death sentence would be unfair because the system that produced the death sentence is unfair. Among other apparent biases, it’s clear that race plays a role in determining who gets life and who gets death in Colorado. And that’s wrong.

In a state with such a small African-American population, -- much smaller than the national average -- it’s shameful to see a death row that houses only young African-American men, all sentenced to death in a single county. This disparity screams bias. And because we know the system is biased, we must not carry out executions resulting from it.

It is for these reasons that the NAACP and many other civil rights organizations spoke for clemency. It is for these same reasons – the bias and brokenness inherent in our system -- that Colorado’s courageous Governor decided not to execute Nathan Dunlap.