NEW VOICES: Former Prosecutor Calls for Clemency in Upcoming Colorado Execution

The former Chief Deputy District Attorney from the county that prosecuted Nathan Dunlap has called on Colorado's governor to commute his death sentence to life without parole. Richard Bloch (pictured), who prosecuted dozens of homicide cases during his 20 years with the Arapahoe County DA’s office, said he believes the state’s capital punishment system is too broken to implement: “Having worked on many homicides, visited dozens of murder scenes, and, most importantly, spoken to many people who have committed violent actions against others, I understand from personal experience what so many studies show: that there is no evidence whatsoever that the death penalty deters crime and enhances public safety.” Bloch also noted the geographical and racial disparities in the state’s death penalty: all those on death row came from Arapahoe County and all are African American, even though blacks account for only 4.3% of the state’s population. Bloch wrote, “[W]e cannot ignore that the system that sentenced Mr. Dunlap to die is a system in crisis. Colorado can do better; Colorado is better than that.” Read full article below.

CO's Death Penalty System Too Broken to Use: Commute Dunlap's Sentence

In the 20 years I spent with the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office, I prosecuted dozens of homicides, including three death penalty cases. Based on my experiences, I believe that Colorado does not need and should not use capital punishment to maintain our public safety. I hope that Governor Hickenlooper commutes Nathan Dunlap's death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Having worked on many homicides, visited dozens of murder scenes, and, most importantly, spoken to many people who have committed violent actions against others, I understand from personal experience what so many studies show: that there is no evidence whatsoever that the death penalty deters crime and enhances public safety.

My work experience convinces me that the threat of a death sentence does not deter criminal activity. In my years as a prosecutor and in my subsequent private legal practice, I have observed that some of the most egregious crimes are committed due to mental illness, desperation, overwhelming emotions, and political extremism -- none of which are subject to rational cost/benefit calculations, like weighing potential criminal sentencing consequences.

Perhaps this understanding that capital punishment doesn't deter crime is the reason that in a 2010 poll, 500 police chiefs ranked the death penalty as the least effective use of taxpayer money for law enforcement purposes. I agree with those civil servants that there are far better uses for the exorbitant public resources spent on the death penalty, which are proven to enhance public safety and well-being.

One side of capital punishment that is rarely discussed is the terrible toll it takes on the people involved. I can only image the enormous burden placed on the Department of Corrections professionals who would have to carry out the actual execution itself. I believe it is too much for us to ask of these workers.

The death penalty is an ineffective and costly government program that diverts resources away from public safety and places an unfair burden on the Department of Corrections workers. When you add to this the serious and widespread concerns that exist about Colorado's use of the death penalty, it becomes clear that the upcoming execution of Nathan Dunlap, scheduled for the week of August 18 - 24, which would be Colorado's 1st execution in 17 years, should not go forward.

A recent academic study from the University of Denver showed that the death penalty in Colorado is broken. It is not handed down in the manner in which it was intended, to defendants who have committed the most egregious crimes. It's used in fewer than 1 percent of the cases where it could be used, and it is used in ways that reflect existing, systemic biases in our criminal justice system.

Our system is broken. Something is clearly wrong with our state when all the death sentences are coming out of one county. We are in a crisis when our state, which is 4.3 % African-American, has a death row that is 100 % African American. A broken system has produced flawed results.

One of these results is Nathan Dunlap's death sentence. That is why I join so many other individuals and groups speaking out to support clemency in this case. The crime he committed was horrific, and he should spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole, to ensure public safety and severe punishment for his crimes. Yet we cannot ignore that the system that sentenced Mr. Dunlap to die is a system in crisis. Colorado can do better; Colorado is better than that.

-Richard Bloch was a Chief Deputy District Attorney for the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office from 1999 - 2004. He is now in private practice in Denver, CO.

(R. Bloch, "CO's Death Penalty System Too Broken to Use: Commute Dunlap's Sentence," Huffington Post, May 20, 2013).  See Deterrence and New Voices.