KUSA—If Colorado death row inmate Nathan Dunlap's case becomes too political for Gov. John Hickenlooper's (D-Colo.) taste, the governor says he could decide to grant "full clemency" before he leaves office.
That's the upshot of an interview given by Hickenlooper to CNN earlier this year. Opponents characterize the governor's comments as a political threat, but the Hickenlooper campaign points out that the governor was asked to comment on a hypothetical scenario in which he faced an opponent who campaigned aggressively on a promise of executing Dunlap.
The governor's re-election campaigns adds that he has no current plans to revisit his decision to grant a temporary reprieve to the death row inmate.
An audio recording of CNN's interview, made by the governor's office, was obtained in a public information request from conservative group Complete Colorado and Craig Silverman.
As 9NEWS has explored before, the governor's decision to grant a temporary reprieve to murderer Nathan Dunlap comes with an odd political wrinkle: it essentially puts a man's life up for a vote because the governor's challenger, Republican Bob Beauprez, says he would carry out the execution.
The CNN interview took place before Bob Beauprez even won the GOP primary. The interviewer was particularly interested in this political aspect, referencing (unsuccessful primary candidate) Tom Tancredo's hard line on the death penalty.
The governor was asked how he'd respond to a campaign that ran on a platform of "elect me, I'm going to kill this guy."
"If that becomes a political issue within that context in the campaign," Hickenlooper replied. "Obviously there's a period of time between the election and the end of the year where individuals can make decisions such as the governor can."
Later, the governor was asked to elaborate on what he meant by this and explained that he could envision commuting the death sentence for Dunlap if it became overly politicized.
"You don't want to go into too much detail in these things, but the issue that a political campaign would make a human life into, you know, a political football is unsettling. And I think would backfire on them tremendously on any candidate who did that. And if they did do that and somehow it won, there are obviously remedies that the governor can do. I could do a full clemency between election day and the end of the year. I mean there are a number of different opportunities to make sure that doesn't happen. Again, human life should not be a political football."
The governor's re-election campaign says this should not be interpreted as a change in Hickenlooper's feelings on the case or how he plans to handle it.
"In this interview and in response to that specific line of hypothetical questioning, he is discussing the legal options that are provided in the state's constitution," said Eddie Stern, a spokesperson for the Hickenlooper campaign.
When he announced the decision in 2013, the governor said his temporary reprieve will remain in place to allow a future governor the ability to decide whether to carry out the execution.
CNN was speaking with Hickenlooper earlier this year for a special series on death penalty cases that has not been aired yet. The series is set to be televised on Friday.
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