Littwin: Death penalty politics, gutsy and easy

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE death penalty story is back. John Hickenlooper and Complete Colorado joined forces — sort of — to once again put the issue front and center in the governor’s race.

Hickenlooper’s part was in giving a clumsy answer to a hypothetical question about Nathan Dunlap in a not-yet-aired CNN interview on capital punishment. And Complete Colorado — a conservative website — was the one that got hold of the unreleased audio featuring the clumsy answer.

The story is this: Hickenlooper was asked in an interview — before Bob Beauprez was nominated — what he’d do if the election came down to a Tancredo-like opponent running on an “elect me and we’ll kill this guy” platform and, in doing so, managed to win. Hickenlooper said it would be “unacceptable” to turn a human life — even Dunlap’s life — into “a political football” and that any candidate who tried it would fail. But he said if it did happen, one option would be to grant Dunlap “full clemency” before he left office.

[pullquote]The strangest part of this is that granting Dunlap a reprieve from the death penalty may have been the gutsiest thing Hickenlooper has done in his political life.[/pullquote]

So it begins anew. And while there’s nothing funny about the death penalty, of course, there is some major irony here.

Hickenlooper has been hammered for granting Dunlap a temporary reprieve. The knock has been that he failed to be a “leader” (read: show some guts) by going the reprieve route — instead of granting clemency — and thereby leaving the final decision to some future governor. And now that Hickenlooper has said he might grant “full clemency”? Yeah, we’ll assume he has failed to show leadership again (read: show some guts) because, well, it’s not exactly clear why.

There are two things we can be sure of, though.

One, the governor’s race won’t be decided by Nathan Dunlap or the death penalty. That’s why when Beauprez talks about Dunlap, he always plays the Hickenlooper leadership card. And the angle on this story is that Hickenlooper has said he wouldn’t revisit the Dunlap decision.

Two, the strangest part of this is that granting Dunlap a reprieve from the death penalty may have been the gutsiest thing Hickenlooper has done in his political life.

The easiest course would have been to let Dunlap die. Only the diehard anti-death-penalty people — most of them Democratic-voting liberals anyway — would have objected. There is no Dunlap constituency. There is no doubt of his guilt or of the horror of his crimes. There would be no political cost for Hickenlooper to pay.

Hickenlooper had every out. He had said he was pro-death penalty when he ran for governor in 2010. He had helped quash a bill that would have ended capital punishment in Colorado. He must have realized if the bill had become law, it would have allowed him to share the responsibility with the legislature.

Instead, it was all on him. He called the victims’ family members to tell them his decision, knowing how disappointed, and angry, some of them would be. Then he called a news conference to explain his decision to everyone else.

He talked about how hard the decision was, but how, in the end, he felt he had no choice. He said the reason he chose a reprieve instead of clemency was that the decision was not about Dunlap, but about Hickenlooper’s growing doubts on the efficacy of capital punishment.

“Is it just and moral?” Hickenlooper asked that day. “We make a decision to take this person’s life. Is it a benefit to the world?”

Soon after, there would be botched executions in Oklahoma and Arizona, which could only have made the issue more difficult. And just weeks ago, Hickenlooper said in an interview on KDVR-TV that he is now opposed to the death penalty. Unlike Hickenlooper’s gun fiasco, this time he would own his decision.

It’s no problem to find real gutlessness on the death penalty issue. Go back to 1992 for a prime example when Bill Clinton was running for president and made his infamous decision, as governor of Arkansas, to go ahead with the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, who had turned the gun on himself after killing a police officer and blown away part of his brain.

The funny/ironic thing is that Hickenlooper is often too, uh, conciliatory. He has a weakness for wanting everyone to like him. The embarrassing talk with the sheriffs about the gun-control bills — that was Hickenlooper at his vacillating worst.

The Dunlap decision was nothing like that. If you’re looking for politicians taking the easy way out, you had only to watch any of the Republican gubernatorial debates and listen to all the candidate guarantee they would execute Dunlap as quickly as possible. You can only wonder if any of them had done the hard work of actually studying the case.

In any event, the timing is good for Beauprez. Hickenlooper has clearly made some real strides on the leadership front by pulling together the Great Fracking Wars Compromise. The economy is improving. Unemployment is down.

But Dunlap is still alive. And even though the Hickenlooper campaign would say nothing has changed on Dunlap, the CNN interview will soon be on the air. And just to get you primed, Beauprez has already released a 60-second Web video. It just may be political football season after all.

[ Image: Hickenlooper-Warhol by John Tomasic. Photo by Jason Karsh. ]


  1. Why do we HAVE to rush to kill someone who has killed someone else? Why do we have to be just as bad if not worse than they were? How is THAT justice?

    And for Beauprez to run on “I’ll kill him if you give me the chance” is just freaking barbaric. For the life of me, I thought (before Reagan) that we were a better country than that. Now it’s clear that we are just a bloodthirsty mob calling itself a country, if THIS is what our “leaders” try to get our votes with.

    Just plain pathetic.

  2. Really Will Morrison??? Executing Dunlap is worse than what Dunlap did??? And you’re still angry that Reagan won……34 years ago????

  3. Dunlap’s heinous crime is worthy of the death penalty. It’s a political certainty Beauprez and his crowd will be hammering the issue to hell and back.
    That hardly makes us a “bloodthirsty mob calling itself a country”.

    No doubt Hickenlooper will have to work for this one. In my opinion he is up to the task and will prevail in November.

  4. How does killing someone else for the SAME thing give you ANY moral superiority? It makes you just as guilty as they are. I truly believe that we should at least TRY to be better than the lowest, most destructive members of our society. Why is THAT such a horrible, ridiculous idea?

    Especially on the right, there is the constant drumbeat of morality, of demanding that everyone else be better, even when you’re not (maybe especially). How does murdering someone else, regardless of your motive, make you ANY better than the original murderer?

    And then there is the constant “pro-life” nonsense that they keep playing divide and conquer with. How can you say that everyone has a right to life, and then take that away as a society? That is a DRAMATIC bit of cognitive dissonance that I just can’t live with.

    I’m not for the murder of anyone, regardless of what they have done. We have him locked up and he won’t be doing that again, or anything like it. Why isn’t THAT enough? Why does it HAVE to be murder? Haven’t we progressed AT ALL since the early days? We have prisons now, they didn’t. We’re no longer a nomadic world where there is no permanence, like we were when those laws were written. We have places to keep these people, and can be humane about it if we TRY.

    We can do better, regardless of what the right thinks. We should at least TRY. Vengence does NOT do the soul any good. And it sure doesn’t do society any good, either. Remember, live by “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” and all you end up is blind and unable to chew your own food.

    For a country that seems determined to claim it’s a Christian country, this one doesn’t have a CLUE of what Christ stood for. I doubt seriously that he would be demanding death. Do you?

    I stand by what I said. I’ve been thinking this out for well over 45 years, now, and I still think that if you’re claiming to live by principles, then you should at least TRY to actually live by them. And that includes not murdering people.

    And let’s not even start about HOW they would do it. What with the lawsuits from those whose family members were essentially tortured to death with chemicals NOT approved by ANY state for this purpose, do you REALLY want to open up THAT can of worms?

    Get over your desire for vengence. It’s just a useless exercise. It helps no one and doesn’t make you any better than the killer.

  5. EJK – Reagan put this country on a downhill path that doesn’t show ANY signs of stopping. Should I be happy he did this? Or should I rue the day he entered national politics? For my country, I choose the latter. I’m old enough to remember what things were like BEFORE he came long. And I’ve been pissed off about how we are rushing to the bottom of the cesspool every day. I hope he’s rotting in hell as we speak. I thought the Alzheimer’s was a gift, so he would never see HOW BADLY he screwed up this country.

    Does THAT tell you how I feel about the Alzheimer’s president? This country would be FAR better off if he had never lived.

  6. It would appear Mr Morrison is the one without a clue.

    I don’t think Christ would accept the notion of President Reagan’s Alzheimers being “a gift”. Nor do I think he would accept the idea this “country would be far better off if Reagan had never lived”.

    I’m no fan of President Reagan or his policies while in office. However I feel Mr Morrison’s feelings towards a former US President are over the top.

    No one should have to suffer the horrible consequences of Alzheimer’s an insidious and heart breaking disease for everyone of us to consider.

  7. Fine. Everything I say is invalidated because I can’t stand a man I consider to have been a traitor to the country he led into the ditch. At least I’m not among those who call themselves Christian and then demand the death of another. I can live with my conscience, thank you.

  8. OK, Will. Here’s my reply, as a Christian – who knows the Word and why capital punishment is, as the final resort, exactly what should be done to someone like Nathan Dunlap. BTW: my kids went to school with Ben Grant. Look that him up. ~~ Under the Mosaic Covenant the death penalty was to be carried out for more than just the crime of murder. Under the Law, the sins of adultery, incest, homosexuality, beastiality, witchcraft and idolatry were also punishable by death. (See Leviticus 20.) Even a rebellious teenager who would not submit to the authority of his parents was to be put to death! (See Deuteronomy 21:18-21.) Although there might be some Christians who would favor the death penalty for some of these additional offenses, few Christians would go that far, and would limit capital punishment to the crime of murder. But isn’t it biblically inconsistent, then, to support the death penalty only for the crime of murder? No! Why not? Because the biblical basis for capital punishment is not the Mosaic Covenant! The original biblical basis for capital punishment is found in Genesis 9, in the Noahic Covenant. This covenant was not limited to the nation of Israel–Israel did not exist at that time. God made the Noahic Covenant with the descendants of Noah (Genesis 9:9), and therefore it included all mankind. Furthermore, the Noahic Covenant was neither conditional nor limited in time. According to Genesis 9:12, it was for “all generations to come.” The sign of the Noahic Covenant was, and still is, the rainbow (Genesis 9:13). As long as there are rainbows in the sky, the Noahic Covenant is still in effect (Genesis 9:14-17). One of the stipulations of the Noahic Covenant was capital punishment. We see from Genesis 9:6 that death was the penalty for the crime of murder only–not for all the other sins listed in the Mosaic Covenant. The stated reason for the death penalty was because God made man “in the image of God.” Capital punishment was instituted because God places a very high value on human life! In fact, God views human life as so valuable that He decreed that those who take human life must suffer the ultimate punishment–the death penalty. Thus a Christian who would do away with capital punishment not only exhibits an ignorance of the biblical covenants, but in actuality takes a lower view of the value of human life than God Himself. God was the first to set up the death penalty. However, most people are convinced that Jesus opposed capital punishment – but if you take the time to actually read the Bible and study what Jesus did and said, you have to come to the conclusion that most people (as usual), are wrong. Doesn’t matter if they’re seminary students, preachers, priests, or just normal folk. Jesus did support the death penalty and He left a hearty biblical record proving the point. Jesus has been so remade by the modern world into a mix of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Tiny Tim that they cannot see the Jesus clearly portrayed in the Bible. Look at the Word: the scriptures list quite a number of capital offenses murder (Exodus 21:12), kidnapping (Exodus 21:16), bestiality (Exodus 22:19), adultery (Leviticus 20:10), homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13), being a false prophet (Deuteronomy 13:5), prostitution and rape (Deuteronomy 22:24), and several other crimes. However, God often showed mercy when the death penalty was due. David committed adultery and murder, yet God did not demand his life be taken (2 Samuel 11:1-5,14-17;2 Samuel 12:13). Ultimately, every sin we commit should result in the death penalty because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Thankfully, God demonstrates His love for us in not condemning us (Romans 5:8).” If you’re asking, well then – “what did Jesus do?” Here goes: When the Pharisees brought a woman who was caught in the act of adultery to Jesus, and asked Him if she should be stoned, Jesus replied, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). This should not be used to indicate that Jesus rejected capital punishment in all instances. Jesus was simply exposing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The Pharisees wanted to trick Jesus into breaking the Old Testament law; they did not truly care about the woman being stoned (where was the man who was caught in adultery?) God is the One who instituted capital punishment: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). Jesus would support capital punishment in some instances. Jesus also demonstrated grace when capital punishment was due (John 8:1-11). The apostle Paul definitely recognized the power of the government to institute capital punishment where appropriate (Romans 13:1-7). The Mosaic Law very strongly supported the death penalty and Jesus never once disobeyed the law or taught against it. He said, ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill…’ (Matthew 5:17). The law made numerous provisions for the death penalty. Jesus did not come to destroy these provisions but to fulfill them. As such, He would have supported the death penalty. God put safeguards in place against human violence after Noah and the Flood. Of prime importance was the death penalty: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”(Genesis 9:6).
    “If a human or an animal killed a human, the killer was to be put to death (Genesis 9:5). This was because of the sacredness of human life. God created humans in His image, so murdering another human meant you would forfeit your own life. God has NEVER revoked the death penalty. Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17), and the Apostle Paul preached about the government’s right to invoke capital punishment on evildoers (Romans 13:1-5).
    “What about wrong convictions? What if an innocent person is wrongly sentenced to death? Unfortunately, it happens – and the most famous case of an innocent person’s being condemned to death involves Jesus, God’s own Son. He endured an unjust trial on trumped-up charges, suffered, and died on a wooden cross. But God did not intervene. The need for justice was so strong that the Father was willing to put up this wrong conviction – but it insured the required blood sacrifice – once and for all – that God required for the sins of the world. Isn’t God merciful? Of course – He often shows charity and mercy when the death penalty is due. David committed murder, yet God did not take his life. In John chapter 8 we read that the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery, and asked Him whether she should be stoned to death, as the Law of Moses required. Jesus said, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.’ They all left. But God requires JUSTICE, and most of us forget that part. We want Love, love, love – and no responsibility or consequences for SIN. God allows governments to impose the death penalty. We should all be aware that if we do wrong in a country that allows the death penalty, we must be ready for the punishment. The requirement for the heinous crime of an unrepentant murderer is the life of the person responsible. No mercy? No – not at this point. When the convicted and tried suffers the consequences, then appears before the final Judge, the mercy may be applied – but only when the person complies with the earthly requirements. What are those? Well, you’ll see one of them on the poster in the end zone at some football games: John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” OK, and what else? Acts 16:13 ~ They said “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” What? How about the good things I do, and how good I am to everyone? Well, here’s what the Bible says about how good we all think we are: (Romans 3:10-18) “As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside,
    they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit, the poison of asps is under their lips, whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Capital punishment, the death penalty – is warranted in the case of Nathan Dunlap. Hateful, unrepentant (said in interviews he’d do it again), and a cold-blooded murderer.

Comments are closed.