DENVER — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper didn’t rule out Tuesday the possibility of commuting Nathan Dunlap’s death sentence if he loses the November election, although he said he has no plans to reopen the case.
Mr. Hickenlooper raised the option of a lame-duck clemency in a yet-to-be-aired interview with CNN released last weekend by the conservative website Complete Colorado, but while the Democratic governor sought Tuesday to downplay his remarks, he didn’t refute them.
“Well, they were asking whether that’s something that’s on the table, as a possibility, and I said, ‘Sure, certainly, it is,’ ” said Mr. Hickenlooper in an interview Tuesday with 9News anchorman Gary Shapiro.
The governor was referring to the option of granting full clemency before leaving office to Dunlap, who killed four Chuck E. Cheese employees in 1993. Mr. Hickenlooper granted Dunlap a “temporary reprieve” in May 2013, three months before he was scheduled to be executed.
“It was an answer to a question, right? A hypothetical question,” said Mr. Hickenlooper. “Another lesson in political campaign season — you shouldn’t answer hypothetical questions.”
At the end of the three-minute interview, Mr. Shapiro asked, “Just to clarify, you are not going to grant clemency for Nathan Dunlap.”
“Well, let me just put it this way,” said Mr. Hickenlooper. “The decision we made back in May of  — nothing has changed there. Nothing in that interview with CNN, nothing in the interviews I’ve given since then has changed my mind.”
Mr. Hickenlooper’s remarks have created a political firestorm in the tight gubernatorial race. Republicans have accused the governor of using Dunlap’s fate as leverage as he wages a tough re-election battle against former Rep. Bob Beauprez, the GOP nominee.
The Beauprez campaign released a video Monday saying, “Bob Beauprez would carry out justice for the victims, but if Gov. Hickenlooper loses, he plans to deliver one final injustice.”
“Coloradans want to see justice served and certainly don’t believe Gov. Hickenlooper should grant clemency to a convicted mass murderer,” said Colorado Republican Party spokesman Matt Connelly. “The governor’s indecision on Nathan Dunlap is symptomatic of his inability to make a decision on a range of important issues facing Colorado and yet another reason Colorado deserves a real leader like Bob Beauprez in the governor’s office.”
Craig Silverman, the talk-show host on KNUS-AM who first aired the interview Saturday, challenged the governor’s assertion that the CNN interviewers raised the subject of a post-election clemency.
“It was Hick who brought up idea of lame duck clemency, not CNN,” said Mr. Silverman in a Facebook post. “Listen to the whole tape on my website at 710KNUS.com.”
On the CNN audio, Mr. Hickenlooper says that if the Dunlap reprieve becomes “a political issue,” then “obviously there’s a period of time between the election and the end of the year where individuals can make decisions, such as a governor can.”
One of the interviewers follows up by saying, “You alluded earlier that you have actions that you could take if that happened—in other words, if they emotionalize this topic and try to make it bigger than maybe it should be on a relative scale. Can you detail what you mean by what you said?”