From the Editor

Editor's Report

December 2008

Collision Course

Their two lives couldn't have been more different. One was poor, black, and burdened with a lifetime of physical abuse and mental illness. The other was a farm boy who spent two years at a seminary and ended up in the Governor's Mansion.

Nathan Dunlap and Bill Ritter might as well be from different planets, and yet for the better part of two decades their fates have been locked on a collision course.

It was 15 years ago this month that the then-teenaged Dunlap walked into an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese restaurant and methodically gunned down five of his former co-workers. It's hard to imagine a crime that seemed more deserving of the death penalty. As depicted in the media reports of the time, Dunlap was the prototypical remorseless urban predator. He was a monster, pure and simple.

But as 5280 editors Patrick Doyle and Natasha Gardner discovered during nearly five months of digging into Dunlap's brutal life, the true story is anything but simple. Their report, which begins on page 114, raises important questions, not about Dunlap's guilt, but about the death penalty itself. In their careful reporting and vivid storytelling, you will clearly see how justice is too often overrun by an ugly stampede of vengeance, politics, and ambition.

This is something Bill Ritter knows only too well. As a former prosecutor, he has spent his political career on the high wire, successfully balancing his own "strong reservations" about the death penalty with the harsh realities of electoral politics. Whether by luck or by design (Ritter isn't talking), the former prosecutor never saw a death-penalty case through to its ultimate conclusion. As governor, he has similarly avoided ever fully committing himself one way or the other on the issue. But with Nathan Dunlap's execution looming, Ritter may not be able to duck the question for much longer.

"The Politics of Killing" is a story that will shock you, anger you, and, hopefully, challenge your most basic assumptions about the true nature of justice.

A little more than a week after learning that "Out in the Cold," Mike Kessler's November 2007 investigation into the government's shameful mistreatment of former Rocky Flats workers, would be one of just 20 stories anthologized in the 2008 edition of Best American Magazine Writing, we got the sad news that one of the article's principal subjects had died.

Like so many of his co-workers, Tom Haverty, who worked in the most dangerous areas of the nuclear weapons plant outside Denver for more than 15 years, understood the risks. "I'm a veteran of the Cold War, like a veteran of any other war," he told Kessler. "I didn't go to Iraq and take a bullet, but I did go to Rocky Flats and take a neutron for my country." And, like so many of his co-workers, when Haverty developed radiation-related cancer, all he asked was that the government make good on its promise of health benefits for sick workers. When he died on November 7, he was still waiting.

Our sincere condolences go to Tom's family, whose grief is only made worse by their staggering medical bills. As Kessler wrote to me after getting the news, "Tom died without seeing a dime of compensation, and now it's up to his wife Terri to navigate the labyrinth of government red tape. We can only hope that one day soon, the claims process will be reexamined, and made less burdensome—and fairer. Tom Haverty sacrificed his life for Rocky Flats. His wife should not have to sacrifice hers."