‘A monumental day’; Nebraska executes Carey Dean Moore in state’s first lethal injection

‘A monumental day’; Nebraska executes Carey Dean Moore in state’s first lethal injection
A man, who wished not to be named, prays outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln (World-Herald News Service)

LINCOLN — Nebraska carried out its first execution in 21 years on Tuesday, using four drugs to end the life of double murderer Carey Dean Moore.

Moore, 60, became the first condemned inmate in the state put to death by lethal injection. He had served 38 years on death row for the 1979 killings of Omaha cabdrivers Reuel Van Ness and Maynard Helgeland.

Helgeland and Van Ness were shot five days apart as Moore targeted cabdrivers because he knew they carried cash. Both men were 47 years old, fathers and military veterans.

Corrections Director Scott Frakes said the first of four execution drugs was administered at 10:24 a.m. The Lancaster County coroner declared Moore dead at 10:47 a.m.

Frakes said the execution was carried it out with “professionalism, respect for the process and dignity for all involved.”

The scene outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary, where the execution occurred, was subdued on Tuesday morning amid on-and-off rain showers. Only about a dozen death penalty opponents prayed outside the prison; only three capital punishment proponents attended. Many more state troopers and media members stood nearby.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, who helped lead an effort to overturn a 2015 repeal of the death penalty by the Nebraska Legislature, spent the morning in a meeting with state agency officials.

“Today, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services carried out the sentence the court ordered in accordance with the will of the people of Nebraska,” Ricketts said in a prepared statement. “The death penalty remains a critical tool to protect law enforcement, corrections officers and public safety.”

Outside the governor’s mansion in Lincoln just after the execution, a handful of protesters stood in the rain, one carrying a sign reading: “Ricketts has blood on his hands.”

Among the death penalty supporters who came to the prison were Vivian Tuttle, whose daughter was slain inside a Norfolk bank in 2002. “I’m here to support the victims,” Tuttle said. “That’s the ones I have to stand for.”

Standing with her was Pierce County Sheriff Rick Eberhardt, who, along with Tuttle, collected hundreds of signatures gathered in support of restoring the death penalty in 2016.

​Tuttle’s daughter, Evonne Tuttle, was one of five people killed in a bank robbery in Norfolk on Sept. 26, 2002. Evonne Tuttle, a single mother, went to the bank in Norfolk to cash a $64 check.

Three gunmen from the robbery, Jose Sandoval, Jorge Galindo and Erick Vela, all are on death row.

“I think it’s important that we have voices that still say it’s important that we stand for the death penalty. And for the families of victims,” Tuttle said.

Moore — who had served the longest time on Nebraska’s death row — was led to the execution chamber at 10 a.m. After he was strapped to the execution table, he mouthed the words “I love you” multiple times toward his official witnesses, which included a brother and a niece.

His final words were delivered in a handwritten statement: He hoped that lawyers could get his younger brother, Donald, released from parole, and he urged death penalty opponents to pursue claims of innocence by four others on Nebraska’s death row.

Moore also expressed regret in the letter that he hadn’t led the younger brother “in the right way … instead of bringing him down.” Donald Moore, then 14, came along when Carey, 21 at the time, said he was going to rob a cabbie 39 years ago.

“I am terribly sorry. Please forgive me Don, somehow,” Moore wrote.

Steve Helgeland, the youngest son of one of slain cabdriver Maynard Helgeland, said he was bothered that Moore expressed no remorse for the murders in his final statement.

“I was a little frustrated and angry that he couldn’t even apologize,” he  said.

Steve and his brother, Kenny, traveled from their homes to South Dakota to be inside the penitentiary when the execution took place, although neither man wanted to witness it.

“We were there just to honor Mr. Van Ness and our father,” Steve Helgeland said.

The four official media witnesses to the execution said that Moore’s face gradually turned slightly red, then purple, as the four drugs were administered. The execution was the first using the four drugs obtained by Nebraska, over legal objections by death penalty opponents and some drug manufacturers.

The curtain to the execution chamber was lowered at 10:39 a.m. after the fourth drug was administered. The curtains reopened eight minutes later after he was pronounced dead.

World-Herald staff writer Joe Duggan, one of the media witnesses, said that Moore appeared slightly shaken when the death warrant was read to him before the execution.

Duggan called the execution “a monumental day” after the many debates in the state over capital punishment. The death penalty was restored by voters in 2016 by a 61-39 percent margin after a petition drive, in large part funded by Ricketts, placed the issue on the ballot.

“There’s no question it’s a significant day in the state’s history,” the reporter said.

In a statement, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said, “Our sympathy is extended to the families of Reuel Van Ness and Maynard Helgeland for the loss of their loved ones nearly thirty-nine years ago. Today’s somber event serves to provide a measure of closure for what has been a lengthy enactment of justice.”

Nebraska has now carried out 38 state-sanctioned executions. Moore was put to death using a previously untried four-drug combination of diazepam, fentanyl, cisatracurium and potassium chloride.

He is the first inmate executed using the drug fentanyl, a powerful narcotic painkiller that has contributed to the nation’s epidemic of drug overdoses. He was put to death despite two federal lawsuits filed last week by drug companies seeking to keep their products from being used.

The state’s last execution before Tuesday took place in 1997, when the electric chair was the method. Lethal injection was adopted in 2009 after the State Supreme Court outlawed electrocution as cruel and unusual punishment.

Witnesses say it appears Nebraska’s first execution in 21 years went smoothly

LINCOLN — Media witnesses to Nebraska’s first execution using lethal injection — and the state’s first execution in 21 years — said the process appeared to have gone smoothly and as planned.

The first of four lethal injection drugs were pumped into the left arm of double-murderer Carey Dean Moore at about 10:24 a.m. Tuesday.

He was pronounced dead by a Lancaster County coroner 23 minutes later.

Moore was described by the four media witnesses as “straight faced” and “composed” as the death warrant was read to him just prior to the execution.

“The gravity of what was happening to him was clear on his face,” said one of the witnesses, Joe Duggan, a reporter at The World-Herald.

Before the drugs were administered and after he was strapped to the execution table, Moore mouthed the words “I love you” to family members, who were seated in a separate witness room from the media.

Prison officials performed a “consciousness check” on Moore after the first drug was administered. Then the other three drugs were injected, via an IV line that ran from an adjacent room.

Moore’s face became red and then purple, the media witnesses said, and at one point his abdomen heaved and his breathing became faster.

The witnesses said Moore’s facial expression did not change during the execution.

Cabdriver killer Carey Dean Moore recounted how he got to death row

TECUMSEH, Neb. — Carey Dean Moore is no longer sure he wants to die in Nebraska’s electric chair.

The man who executed two Omaha cabdrivers in the summer of 1979 had been prepared for his own execution last Tuesday. He had dropped all of his appeals and made his final arrangements. After 27 years alone in a cell, he desperately wanted to trade what he calls the hell of death row for the heaven he believes awaits him.

But six days before the scheduled May 8 execution, the Nebraska Supreme Court stepped in. The execution must wait, the court said, until it can examine the constitutionality of the electric chair.

Moore said he was bitterly disappointed when he learned of that decision. But now he is leaving open the possibility of renewing his appeals.

“I do not want to think too much about the death penalty right now. I will — probably — continue my appeals. But I want to think about it for a month or two.”

His comments came in a far-ranging interview last week. Moore answered questions for more than 90 minutes in a private visiting room in the Tecumseh State Prison. There were no lawyers or prison officials present, just a reporter and a photographer — with three guards monitoring from outside the room.

The balding and soft-spoken Moore wore wire-rim glasses, a gray T-shirt, khaki pants and white tennis shoes. He was not shackled or handcuffed. He spoke in slow, measured sentences. He smiled frequently and answered every question.

Moore talked about targeting cabbies as his victims, and once even mistakenly jumping into his mother’s cab; about his identical twin brother, who once traded places with him to see death row; about how he prepared himself for the walk to the electric chair; and about his belief that Jesus has forgiven his crimes.

At 49, Moore is the longest-serving inmate on death row. He arrived at age 22, four years after the state reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Moore has never denied his guilt.

From the day in 1979 when he was picked up, driving a stolen red station wagon with a .32-caliber handgun under the driver’s seat, Moore has admitted to shooting two cabdrivers.

His first victim was Reuel Van Ness, a Korean War veteran who loved his 10 children, a good joke and his handlebar mustache. Van Ness, 47, bled to death after Moore shot him three times in the back from the backseat of Van Ness’ Safeway cab.

Moore had an accomplice for his first killing. His younger brother, Donald, came along when Carey said he was going to rob a cabbie. Donald was 14. The brothers took about $140 from Van Ness and used it to buy marijuana and porn magazines.

Five days later, Moore shot Maynard Helgeland, 47, after summoning his Happy Cab. Helgeland, who also was a Korean War veteran, had been trying to get his life back on track. He had been sober for a year and was attempting to make amends with his three children.

Moore never got a dime off Helgeland. After the cabbie was shot three times in the back of the head, he slumped over onto his wallet. Moore said he couldn’t bring himself to move the body — too much blood.

Although an admitted murderer, Moore described himself as squeamish. He said he once fainted after death row inmate Charles “Jess” Palmer, now deceased, described a heart surgery in great detail.

No excuses

Moore made no bones about why he killed the cabdrivers: He wanted drug money and didn’t want to leave any witnesses.

He insisted, however, he has changed from that angry younger man who was so cold and calculating about murder.

He also said his brother had no idea he planned to murder Van Ness. He persuaded Donald to go along, telling him that he planned only to rob a cabdriver.

Donald was sentenced to life in prison but was later paroled. He has twice violated parole and been sent back to prison. He has another parole hearing at the end of this month.

Carey said he was disgusted with himself for taking Donald with him when he killed Van Ness.

Why cabdrivers? The Moores’ mother was a cabdriver, Carey said, and she always had cash.

In fact, Moore said, on the night he plotted to kill a second cabdriver, he was stunned to find that the first cab he jumped into, near a downtown bus station, was driven by his mother.

“It surprised me so much. I had the gun with me. I knew what I wanted to do. Instead, I played it off. And I told her I wanted her to take me home. She dropped me off and I went back downtown, ” Moore said.

Although he described the motive for the first murder as primarily about the money, he said the second one was his attempt to prove to himself that he could commit murder on his own.

“I really wasn’t interested too much in the money (the second time), even though I looked for it, of course, after I murdered him. I murdered the second man to show myself — in an extremely stupid way — that I did not need to have anyone with me.”

He disputed another explanation for the murders put forth by authorities at his trial. At the time, police officers testified that the then-21-year-old told them shortly after his arrest that he felt bad about the killings, but that he liked the power of having the gun and shooting people.

“I was just talking garbage, ” Moore now said.

Both of Carey Dean Moore’s murder victims were cabdrivers, Korean War vets

As death row inmate Carey Dean Moore’s execution approaches, we remember his two slaying victims.


Maynard Helgeland was putting his life back together, reconnecting with his children

LINCOLN — Maynard Helgeland turned to driving a taxicab because he could do the job with two prosthetic legs.

He had lost his legs as a result of an alcohol addiction that also cost him his marriage and damaged relationships with his three children

But by Aug. 27, 1979, Helgeland had gotten sober and was working to reconnect with his children until he was shot in the head after picking up a fare.

That fare, Carey Dean Moore, is scheduled to be executed Tuesday for killing Helgeland and a second cabdriver five days earlier.

Helgeland, 47, was an Air Force veteran who fought in the Korean War. After the war, he held a series of labor jobs before moving his family to Council Bluffs. He mostly worked construction before losing his legs to frostbite.


Reuel Van Ness was father, stepfather to 10 children, drove cab for extra money

Reuel Van Ness enjoyed the time he spent taking people around Omaha in his taxicab.

He drove the cab to supplement his other jobs. The money came in handy to help support his family of 10 children and stepchildren.

But the job cost Van Ness his life on Aug. 22, 1979, when a fare shot him three times and stole $140.

That fare, Carey Dean Moore, is slated to be executed Tuesday for killing Van Ness and a second cabdriver five days later.

When he died, Van Ness was 47. He was a Korean War veteran who worked construction and was an auto mechanic.

His daughter, Richelle Van Ness-Doran of Omaha, recalls him as a generous man. Bob Howell, a former boss, described him as having a “personality that just wouldn’t quit.”

Grounds outside Nebraska State Pen were quiet as officials prepared to execute Moore

LINCOLN — The grounds outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary were quiet Tuesday morning leading up to the execution of convicted killer Carey Dean Moore by lethal injection.

Though state officials were prepared for crowds, few protesters for or against the death penalty braved the light rain that fell on Lincoln.

Moore was declared dead at 10:47 a.m. — Nebraska’s first execution by that method and its first execution since 1997.

Moore, 60, served for 38 years on death row for the 1979 killings of Omaha cabdrivers Reuel Van Ness and Maynard Helgeland.

Moore was brought to state pen on Friday night. He was allowed to give a final statement at about 9:30 a.m. At that time, he directed witnesses to a letter he had previously written.

There were 10 total witnesses to the execution, including the media witnesses. Moore had three witnesses and a clergy member, although the state did not identify them.

Corrections Director Scott Frakes was a witness, as were the penitentiary warden and two other department officials.

Just a handful of opponents showed up outside the state prison Tuesday morning.

Matt Maly with Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty said Tuesday morning he hoped there would not be a circus-like atmosphere outside the penitentiary, but he wanted to be present to represent his group.

The group is planning a rally at the State Capitol at 5 p.m. Organizer Ari Kohen said in a statement: “This costly, reckless and secretive process is incompatible with Nebraska values and it’s important that Gov. Ricketts knows that his constituents don’t want this execution to happen.”

Given the opportunity to reinstate the death penalty, Nebraskans voted 61 percent in favor of restoring it.

Vivian Tuttle said she is outside of the prison today to remember the two men killed by Moore. “I’m here for the victims,” she said. Tuttle’s daughter, Evonne Tuttle, was one of five people killed in a bank robbery in Norfolk in 2002.

The execution at the prison in Lincoln was the state’s first using lethal injection and the first in the nation to use the four-drug protocol recently adopted by state prison officials.

A raucous, party-like atmosphere surrounded the prison when the state resumed executions in 1994, after a lengthy pause. That year, more than 1,000 people showed up for the execution of Harold Lamont Otey, and some sang the song “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” after it was announced that the death sentence had been carried out.

The conduct, labeled inappropriate by some state officials, later prompted the state to move to daytime executions to avoid the late-night crowds. When Robert Williams was executed mid-morning in 1997, fewer than 60 people gathered outside the prison.

Gov. Pete Ricketts was scheduled to be in a meeting with state agency officials at the time of the execution, according to his spokesman, Taylor Gage.

Death penalty opponents make last-minute direct plea to Ricketts to halt Moore’s execution

LINCOLN — Two anti-death penalty groups made last-minute, direct pleas to Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday to call off the planned execution of Carey Dean Moore on Tuesday.

Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty, the leading anti-capital punishment organization in the state, delivered the signatures of more than 60,000 people to the Governor’s Office at the State Capitol, asking that he cancel the execution.

Another group, called Catholic Democrats of Nebraska, brought a “public” letter, signed by more than 660 people, calling for Ricketts to “see the error of his ways” and halt the execution.

“We pray that you have a conversation of the heart,” the letter said.

One of the women who delivered the Catholic Democrats’ letter, Marylyn Felion, a death penalty opponent from Omaha, said Ricketts is violating an oath he took as a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre to pledge “absolute fidelity to the pope.”

“He has hidden behind Catholic teaching as long as it served his purpose … now, no more,” Felion said.

Ricketts did not meet with the two groups at his Capitol office and did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday afternoon.

But during his monthly call-in show earlier Monday afternoon, Ricketts said the people of Nebraska “had certainly spoken” in 2016 by voting 61 percent to 39 percent to restore the death penalty.

“This is one of the most somber and serious responsibilities the state has,” Ricketts said. “I certainly hope Nebraskans will behave that way as we approach the execution tomorrow.”

Two weeks ago, after Pope Francis announced the change in the Catholic Church’s stance on capital punishment, the governor said that while he respected the pope’s perspective, the death penalty remained the “will of the people and the law of the state. ”

Sister Mary Kay Meagher, one of the women who delivered the Catholic Democrats’ letter, said the governor’s stance hurts the church and makes followers seem hypocritical.

Matt Maly, a spokesman for Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty, said that group’s petition was inspired by Francis’ recent proclamation that the death penalty, in all circumstances, is morally wrong.

The proclamation puts the governor, “a devout Catholic,” in direct conflict with the church, Maly said.

“As Governor Ricketts has said many times, Nebraska is a pro-life state,” he said. “Resuming a program like the death penalty … is incompatible with one of our most important shared values — the sanctity of all human life.”

The Catholic Democrats’ letter, according to Ellen Moore of Bellevue, was created after a federal judge refused to block the execution, rejecting a German drug company’s claim that the use of its drugs in an execution would harm its business.

The letter was signed by 75 Catholic nuns, 25 priests and deacons and one Catholic bishop. More than 260 of the signees were from Nebraska, a spokesman for the group, Steven Krueger, said in a press release.

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