Commute Nathan Dunlap’s Death Sentence, Governor

The following is an op-ed piece written by attorney David Lane of the law firm Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP:


At some point during the week of Aug. 18, in revenge for the murders of four innocent people, the state of Colorado will strap a now-helpless Nathan Dunlap to a gurney and inject poison into his body until he is dead.


With the stroke of a pen, Gov. John Hickenlooper can put the brakes on our descent into barbarism. He should grant clemency and convert this death sentence to life without possibility of parole.


Spare me all the rhetoric about “justice” and “deterrence” because it is pure nonsense. The plain fact is that killing Dunlap really has nothing to do with anything but naked vengeance. No one can argue deterrence with a straight face. Life without parole is as much a deterrent as the death penalty. Dunlap has lived in a cell about the square footage of a king-sized bed for the last 20 years and is incapable of so much as touching another human being much less ever harming one. He has been effectively incapacitated as a societal danger.


As for justice, George Brauchler, the district attorney currently on the case has equated justice with death in the James Holmes case. This misguided Taliban-like thinking illustrates a fundamental problem with America and much of the world today. The concepts of justice and vengeance are hopelessly entangled with one another and indeed, many believe they are synonyms.


The fact is, however, that while there may indeed be an element of vengeance contained in justice, true justice is much more than getting even with an enemy. True justice also factors in mercy and the fundamental dignity of the human being in the dock. That is why true justice will never permit a civilized society to condemn any of its members to die.


Killing Dunlap is the ultimate act in the degradation of all of our humanity. When we treat our fellow creatures as subhuman garbage whose entire existence can be defined by the worst thing they have ever done, we simultaneously condemn our own humanity. We have given up on the values we should most cherish. We reject the concept of a merciful society and embrace a vengeful one.


Mercy is never earned in a just society but is an act of grace bestowed upon the least among us by a society which values the notion that all human beings have some intrinsic worth. Killing a helpless human being in vengeance is a societal statement that the worst instincts we have as a people ultimately guide our actions while redemption and change are simply tossed aside for the thrill of the kill.


The question before us is not what Dunlap deserves, because in the “what goes around comes around” just-desserts world, he obviously deserves back what he gave out, which is immeasurable pain and suffering. We won’t torture him to death because that would be a reflection upon us. We will give him an allegedly painless lethal injection even though that’s far less than he may “deserve.”


The question, however, is not what he deserves but what we as citizens in a civilized society deserve. Celebratory dancing around a bonfire while we are awash in Dunlap’s blood may have been fine 500 years ago, but don’t we deserve a better government than that? Aren’t we better than that?


Strapping a helpless human being to a table and killing him in revenge for past murders makes more of a statement about us than our victim. We won’t torture him to death because that would make us brutal barbarians.


Wake up, Colorado. To kill him does the same. Gov. Hickenlooper, please sign the commutation papers and save us from the ultimate degradation of ourselves.


David A. Lane is a partner at the law firm Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP, in Denver.



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