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May 14, 2013 12:08 AM by Tony Spehar - tspehar@koaa.com

Local couple part of effort to save inmate on death row

A local couple is part of the effort to convince Governor Hickenlooper to spare the life of a man on death row for murdering four people in Aurora in 1993.

Nathan Dunlap was convicted of shooting five people at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Aurora. Marge Kohlberg, Sylvia Crowell, Ben Grant and Colleen O'Connor died from their wounds. Another man, Bob Stephens, was shot in the face but survived.

For a time Dunlap was in jail in Colorado Springs, while he was there local resident Mary Lynn Sheetz started writing him.

"If my children were some place away from home and especially if they'd been in trouble I'd like somebody to reach out to them," Sheetz explained. "So I wrote to him and have written to him every month since then."

Dunlap was originally to be executed in 1996, but the appeals process has continually delayed his death sentence. Recently, a judge set Aug. 18 through 24 as Dunlap's execution week.

Last week, Dunlap's attorneys filed a clemency petition urging Governor Hickenlooper to commute Dunlap's sentence to life in prison. Among the documents submitted was a letter from Mary Lynn Sheetz detailing the changes she and her husband Stephen Handen have seen in Dunlap over the past 20-years. Both had recently visited him in prison.

"He was talking about what a hateful person he had been and that he wanted to quit hating," she described. "I have found sorrow in him over what he did."

However, the families of the four people killed and survivor Bob Stephens said Dunlap deserves to die for what he did.

"He smiled at me and then shot me," Stephens told KUSA-TV in Denver. "Nathan did not show any concern for life that night, this guy deserves what he's got coming to him."

Dunlap's lawyers have argued that he suffers from bi-polar disorder, he was diagnosed in 2006, and that played a role in his crime. They also argued that he suffered years of psychological and sexual abuse, which Mary Lynn Sheetz said he has overcome. She said he had become a compassionate person who thinks of others and is remorseful for what he'd done.

"I don't think that we as a society should teach a person that killing is wrong by killing," she said. "When I look at my children or my grand-children that's not what I want to teach them."

Governor Hickenlooper has yet to make a decision in Dunlap's case.

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