Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper “is a coward who doesn’t deserve to be in office,” in the words of a man whose daughter was killed by former Chuck E. Cheese employee Nathan Dunlap in 1993.
Dennis O’Connor’s 17-year-old daughter Colleen was one of four employees killed by Dunlap, whose death sentence Hickenlooper stayed indefinitely last year just months before he was to be executed.
The decision was not only controversial, but it could prove pivotal in Hickenlooper’s reelection campaign.
O’Connor’s indictment of Hickenlooper is part of a reported $2-million last-minute ad buy by the Republican Governor’s Association on behalf of GOP candidate Bob Beauprez. Hickenlooper’s stance on the death penalty — he is now opposed to it, when he supported it during his first gubernatorial campaign — will feature prominently in the advertising blitz.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her,” O’Connor says in the ad. “You thought you finally got your day in court and your justice and I feel most of us were robbed of that.”
Hickenlooper’s May 2013 decision to stay Dunlap’s execution, in a temporary order that can be rescinded by a future governor, was a tipping point in the race for governor, which at the time was still crowded with a field of GOP hopefuls vying for the nomination. Hickenlooper had seemed almost invincible as an incumbent, but the Dunlap decision — and Hickenlooper’s eventual admission that he’s changed his mind about the death penalty — has remained as an effective Republican talking point.
It’s a point the RGA is determined to drive home.
In the ad, O’Connor recounts a meeting Hickenlooper had with the victims’ families as he weighed whether or not to grant Dunlap clemency.
“I mean, he sat in a room and he lied to me,” he says. “It was all political.”
“He was looking for a way out and he took it,” he says at another point. “At the expense of my daughter, he’s a coward who doesn’t deserve to be in office.”
Other members of O’Connor’s family have a different view, according to the Denver Post. Colleen’s mother, who is divorced from O’Connor, said she supports Hickenlooper’s decision, as does Colleen’s cousin, Gillian McNally.
In an interview with Colorado Public Radio, McNally said she thought the governor’s decision was “very brave.”
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