Chuck E. Cheese Killer: What's Next After Nathan Dunlap Loses Latest Death Penalty Appeal?

By Jason Van Hoven on February 20, 2013 10:20 AM EST

Nathan Dunlap
Is it just a matter of time now before Dunlap is executed via lethal injection? (Photo: Colorado Department of Correct)

Chuck E. Cheese killer Nathan Dunlap lost his last death penalty appeal on Tuesday after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his best legal chance to avoid execution, according to reports.

Since Dunlap lost his last legally guaranteed appeal, bringing an end to more than a decade's worth of appeals, an execution date can be set. While the 38-year-old Chuck E. Cheese killer may file further appeals, however, even those aren't certain to delay his execution by lethal injection as the Denver Post noted.

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Dunlap's lawyers had hoped that his order of execution would be overturned and, as a result, Dunlap would be sent free.

"We're one step closer," said former Arapahoe County District Attorney Jim Peters, who was the prosecutor in Dunlap's trial. "It's not finalized. But we've taken another major step forward."

Dunlap was sentenced to death on March 7, 1996 after he killed four people at an Aurora, Colo., Chuck E. Cheese's restaurant. Prosecutors argued that in 1993, Dunlap deliberately planned and executed four people, including 19-year-old Sylvia Crowell, 17-year-olds Ben Grant and Colleen O'Connor and 50-year-old restaurant manager Margaret Kohlberg, after he emerged from hiding in the restaurant's bathroom and shot all of them.

Police at the time of the murders said that Dunlap was upset because he had been fired from the same Chuck E. Cheese in Aurora and wanted revenge. In addition to the killings, Dunlap took $1,500 in cash , as well as restaurant key chains and game tokens.

During Dunlap's trial, Dunlap insisted that he was mentally ill and that his lawyers had failed to present such information to the court, a theory that he believed would have "mitigated his culpability enough to persuade at least one juror to vote for life imprisonment instead of death."

However, Dunlap also told a doctor that "I'm going to play crazy as long as I can ... The police have no case against me, they're stupid" and then proceeded to insult the victims, saying that he would kill again if given the opportunity.

"Mr. Dunlap should spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole," said Phil Cherner, one of the attorneys representing Dunlap. "What happened is tragic, but taking his life isn't going to change that."

The next step in the Dunlap case, according to the Oakland Press, is for the 18th Judicial District Attorney's office, which prosecuted the case, to make a motion to an Arapahoe County District Court judge to issue a death warrant. According to Colorado law, the death warrant will specify a week during which Dunlap should be executed, which must be carried out by lethal injection. It is then up to the head of the Colorado Department of Corrections to pick the exact day of execution.

Still, Colorado Department of Corrections regulation mandates that no one at the department be allowed to announce the exact execution date publicly.

Dunlap is Colorado's longest-serving death-row inmate, having spent more time behind bars -- roughly half his life -- than some of his victims spent alive. If the death penalty is indeed imposed on Dunlap, it will be more than 15 years since Colorado last executed an inmate.

"I will continue to seek imposition of the death sentence in this case, in the interests of justice," said District Attorney George Brauchler to the Post. "Our office has spent 19 years prosecuting Nathan Dunlap for the preplanned and deliberate murders of the unsuspecting three teenagers and one adult victim who had the terrible misfortune to be working the night shift on Dec. 14, 1993 at Chuck E. Cheese in Aurora."

Dunlap's lawyers will continue to fight the order of execution with one possibility being challenging the constitutionality of Colorado's death-penalty laws. They could also petition Gov. John Hickenlooper for clemency.

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