Attorneys for convicted killer and death row inmate Nathan Dunlap hope to
overturn the death penalty imposed after Dunlap killed 4 people and injured a
5th at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in 1993.
Sources tell 9NEWS the federal public defender's office will argue that Dunlap
was and is mentally ill, and that his trial lawyers didn't adequately present
this information to the jury that sentenced him to death.
There were other issues with the trial as well. Including a claim, there was a
conflict of interest between Dunlap's lawyer and a witness for the prosecution
- among other issues.
The federal public defender's office has been appointed to represent Dunlap
during the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals proceedings - a three-judge panel on
A state court sentenced Dunlap to death. The sentence then went through a
series of appeals on the state level where the courts upheld the decision.
Eventually, the death penalty was challenged in federal district court. The
federal court upheld the prior decisions of the state court, and that decision
is what was being appealed Tuesday.
Paul Koehler with the Colorado Attorney General's office argued Dunlap should
remain on death row. He cited Supreme Court cases where mental health status
was not presented because it was deemed more damaging. Koehler says attorneys
can reasonably decide not to present that evidence.
"[Dunlap's attorneys] were experienced defense attorneys with experience in 15
other death penalty cases," Koehler said.
He went on to say they made the choice not to present mental health testimony
"The defense had very little to work with here," he said.
The 3-judge panel heard oral arguments from both sides lasting 30 minutes each.
No decision will be made Tuesday.
"In death-penalty cases, after the state is through with its proceedings the
federal court looks at it as well," a source told 9NEWS. "This is a part of
that review by federal courts of the death penalty imposed on Dunlap."
The judges will eventually issue their decision to both parties. There is no
timeline when that could happen.
If Dunlap wins, his case goes back to state court, which will likely sentence
him to life in prison. The state can appeal the decision.
If Dunlap loses after Tuesday's argument, his case could be appealed all the
way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court may choose not to accept the case.
"I was impressed by both the Attorney General's and the defense team," said
James Peters, the former District Attorney in Arapahoe County. Peters was the
Chief Deputy Prosecutor on Dunlap's case. "Mr. Dunlap has a thorough and
effective counsel throughout the trial and appellate proceedings. For the sake
of the victims, I hope this case will be concluded at a reasonable time. I
think the judges were well prepared."
The future length of this case will depend on how long the judges will take to
render an opinion, whether the Supreme Court will take the case, and if or when
the state will set an execution date.
Sources tell 9NEWS it's not a question of weeks or years, it's a question of
Colorado does not have a long history of executing inmates, so it's hard to
compare Dunlap's 16 years on death row to someone else.