"In defense of Nathan Dunlap's reprieve," is the Denver Post OpEd by Bill Thiebaut. He's the former Pueblo, Colorado District Attorney.
Much criticism has been levied against Gov. John Hickenlooper's decision to grant a reprieve to Nathan Dunlap, preventing him from being executed this summer. Some have accused the governor of usurping the role of the jury and the courts. Others have attacked him for elevating his personal opposition to the death penalty above the law of the state and the wishes of some of Dunlap's victims' families.
These challenges fundamentally misunderstand the governor's constitutional power to grant clemency, pardon and reprieve. They also ignore the governor's stated reasons for staying Dunlap's execution.
Since 1876, the Colorado Constitution has bestowed on our state's governor the power to grant commutations, pardons and reprieves. All states bestow this power on an executive entity, either the governor, a board, or a combination of the two. The U.S. Constitution grants similar power to the president, who may grant pardons, commutations and reprieves to those convicted of federal crimes.
Gov. Bill Owens used his commutation and pardon power 14 times during his administration. Gov. Bill Ritter issued 29 pardons and commutations, including the posthumous pardon of Joe Arridy, a developmentally disabled man who was wrongfully convicted, sentenced to death, and executed in the 1930s.
The executive clemency power plays an equal role in the criminal justice process to that of the judge and jury. It allows the governor to consider a broad array of information, including evidence that was — for whatever reason — unavailable to the jury at the time of trial, and information about the individual's conduct in the years since his trial. It also allows the governor to take into account factors beyond the individual circumstances of a particular case, such as evidence of systemic problems or changing societal attitudes.
Further, since the DOC finally started treating Dunlap's illness in 2006 — 10 years after his trial — he has stopped cycling through mania and psychosis and has been able to express his profound remorse for his crimes.
None of this information, about Dunlap or about Colorado's death penalty was available to the jury that sentenced him to die. It is, however, squarely within the governor's consideration under Article IV, Section 7 of the Colorado Constitution. By exercising his constitutional power, the governor has afforded all of us an opportunity to carefully reassess the fairness of the ultimate punishment.
Earlier coverage from Colorado begins at the link.