(AURORA, Colo.) — The Supreme Court has refused an appeal from so-called Chuck E. Cheese killer Nathan Dunlap, opening the door for a Colorado judge to schedule the state’s first execution in over 15 years.
The killing of four employees in a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in 1993 was a massacre that scarred the people of Aurora, Colo., long before last year’s shooting in a movie theater in the same city that left 12 dead and dozens more wounded.
Dunlap, 38, is one of three men on the state’s death row. He was sentenced to death in 1996, but the victims’ families have been waiting for justice to be carried out for nearly 20 years.
“I don’t know if Dunlap is ever going to be executed,” Sylvia Crowell, the mother of a victim, told ABC News. “Whether he dies from natural causes or from execution doesn’t matter to me, but he better not leave that prison except in a pine box.”
The case will now go back to the trial court, which is the Arapahoe District Court, according to Carolyn Tyler, spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s office. The Arapahoe court would set a date for execution.
Though Dunlap’s guaranteed appeals have run out, his attorney could potentially still file a stay, which would give them the opportunity to present a clemency application to Gov. John Hickenlooper. All of the potential steps leave the timeline for a potential execution unclear.
Crowell’s 19-year-old daughter Sylvia was killed during the Dec. 14, 1993 shooting. Sylvia was closing the salad bar at closing time when Dunlap, who was also 19 at the time, came up behind her and shot her in the head. He had recently been fired from the restaurant.
He went on to kill Ben Grant, 17, as he cleaned nearby and Colleen O’Connor, 17, who was cleaning the rowdy restaurant’s quiet room for adults when Dunlap approached her. She begged for her life, but he showed no mercy. Dunlap also killed the restaurant’s 50-year-old manager Margaret Kohlberg.
Dunlap was sentenced to die, but has been sitting on death row for nearly 20 years as he has moved through the judicial system’s lengthy appeals process.
There are currently three inmates on death row in Colorado, which has executed only one prisoner, in 1997, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1984.
Dunlap’s attorney believes that he should spend the rest of his life in prison.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Julia Horowitz, CNN
Kathryn Vasel, CNN