- Associated Press - Thursday, May 23, 2013

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s decision to block the execution of convicted killer Nathan Dunlap for as long as he is governor infuriated victims’ relatives and drew quick criticism from Republicans ahead of the 2014 election.

Mr. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, on Wednesday granted an indefinite reprieve to Dunlap, who is on death row for the ambush slayings of four people — three teenagers and a 50-year-old mother — in an Aurora, Colo., Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in 1993.

The reprieve essentially guarantees Dunlap, 38, will stay alive at least through Jan. 13, 2015, the last day of Mr. Hickenlooper’s first term.

“I think it’s highly unlikely that I will revisit it,” Mr. Hickenlooper said.

“We feel the governor has taken the cowardly way out,” said Marj Crowell, whose 19-year-old daughter, Sylvia Crowell, was killed. “They’re just hoping we’ll forget about this until we get the next governor.”

Mr. Hickenlooper is running for re-election next year, and Dunlap’s fate is certain to be a campaign issue.

Citing Mr. Hickenlooper’s decision, former Rep. Tom Tancredo — who ran as a third-party candidate in the last gubernatorial election — announced Thursday he will run again as a Republican.

Wednesday’s decision prompted unusually personal criticism.

Hickenlooper should’ve been up front with voters when he ran for office if he could not carry out the death penalty,” state Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican, said in a statement.

“He’s made himself into Nathan Dunlap’s guardian angel,” said George Brauchler, the Republican district attorney in the office that prosecuted Dunlap. “He’s said, ‘As long as you keep me in office, Nathan Dunlap never has to face death.’”

“This is something we’ve seen consistently out of this governor,” said state Rep. Mark Waller, a Republican who is minority leader in the state’s lower house. “‘I’m not going to make a decision.’”

Mr. Hickenlooper has an image as a pragmatic problem-solver, and he enjoyed bipartisan popularity until this year. But he has been forced to take a stand on an increasing number of divisive issues since his party won back the statehouse in November.

He signed sweeping gun-control legislation and approved laws to help people who are in the country illegally and to establish civil unions for same-sex couples this year.

On the death penalty, Mr. Hickenlooper has appeared to be searching for a middle way.

In a December interview with The Associated Press, he said of repealing the death penalty: “I wrestle with this, right now, on a pretty much daily basis.”

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