This article was originally published May 13, 2007:
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.
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.
Moore was the product of a large, dysfunctional family. He had 11 siblings and an alcoholic father who, his siblings testified in court, beat them frequently and severely with his fists, his feet and appliance cords.
Moore's parents are both deceased. Other family members have testified that Moore's father frequently sent him and his twin brother, Harry David Moore, out to beg for money from neighbors, to steal cigarettes and, once, to torch a car when they were 5 years old.
Moore said he has blocked from his memory much of his childhood. He also refused to blame either his father or his upbringing for his crimes. Other people, he said, have terrible childhoods, but they don't murder.
Moore said life on death row is monotonous, boring and lonely. He spends about 18 hours of his day locked in his cell, watching television or writing letters.
He can converse with some of the other nine men on death row by yelling from cell to cell or during meal time. He frequently writes letters, corresponding with about 30 people. He finds pen pals through ministry groups that visit the inmates.
Each day, he gets about two hours to walk outside in a tiny enclosure and about 30 minutes for each meal. He also gets two hours a day, during the weekday, to go to the library.
The time he spends each day, say family members of his victims, is more time than their loved ones got.
"I think he's had a good life, even though he's been incarcerated. He's been able to live for 28 (more) years, " said Mary Carlisle, a daughter of Reuel Van Ness.
Kenny Helgeland, the 51-year-old son of Maynard Helgeland, has said that Moore was trying to take an "easy way out" by going willingly to the chair. His father, Kenny Helgeland said, "didn't have a choice to live or die."
He added this about Moore: "I don't hate him. But the things he's done will go in my life forever. People make mistakes, but he made an awful mistake."
One of Moore's closest friends is his twin brother, Harry David Moore. The two were inseparable delinquents, burning cars and homes, stealing from neighbors and burglarizing businesses.
At age 10, a judge decided it was best to separate them. The brothers spent the next five or six years trying to sabotage state efforts to find them new homes, believing if they got kicked out of a foster home or a group home, they would be reunited.
"For many, many years, we clung to this idea that we'd be together again, " Carey said.
They were reunited briefly as adults in the 1980s when Harry David was sentenced to the Nebraska State Penitentiary for burglary. By that time, Carey Dean was on death row.
The brothers attempted to change places. During a visit, the identical twins switched clothes. Harry David would learn what it was like to serve time on death row, and Carey Dean would spend time in the general prison population.
The ruse lasted about 20 minutes. A cook in the kitchen noted that the Moore who was washing the pots and pans looked about 15 pounds heavier. "She knew there was something different about Dave (actually, Carey), " Moore said with a laugh.
Today, Harry David Moore lives in Lincoln. He has a steady job and a family and has not returned to prison since he left in 1983. Carey Dean Moore said his brother, who visits him several times a month, reluctantly accepted his wish to be executed. "He knows how bad I want to leave prison, " Moore said.
Moore has been thinking about death for years. He says he never wanted to spend his life in prison. Earlier this year, he asked his attorney, Alan Peterson of Lincoln, to drop all his appeals. He also asked the Nebraska Supreme Court to set an execution date.
Believing his final days were upon him, Moore began to prepare. He organized his cremation and a memorial service. He said goodbye to the men on death row. He was moved from death row in Tecumseh to the hospital at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, where he would be a short walk from the electric chair.
He ordered his last meal of pizza and strawberry cheesecake. And he planned out in his head the dead-man walk to the chair. He was going to make that final walk unassisted and was going to ask the guards not to touch him.
His final thoughts were going to be: "Take me home, Jesus."
But his wish to "go home" was thwarted when the high court said questions about the legality of the electric chair superseded Moore's desire to die.
"I felt like a flat tire. Air came out of my mouth. I was so disappointed, " Moore said.
"I could taste my execution and my death. I am very much tired of all of this prison life, being on death row. I really wanted it to end."
Heaven and faith
Moore described himself as a devout Christian. He spends part of each day reading the Bible. (He memorized Psalms with former death row inmate Jeremy Sheets, whose sentence was vacated in 2001.)
He said he realizes some people may doubt his faith. That's one reason, he said, he had declined interviews in the past. Many people will consider his comments about God and his remorse to be self-serving.
But, he said, he doesn't harbor any hope of getting out of prison and doesn't care what people believe. "I'm not trying to convince anyone I'm a Christian. . . . Thank God, I am, " he said, raising his arms.
He believes Jesus has forgiven him for the murders. He said he has accepted Jesus' forgiveness and no longer feels guilty. But, he said, he will always feel sorry about the murders and the pain he caused the Van Ness and Helgeland families.
"Even today, it pains me -- about how the victim families feel, " he said.
"Throughout the years, I think if I was in their shoes, I think I would want to see me dead -- many, many times over. In perpetual pain, you know, " Moore said. "I do not blame them for wanting to see me rot in prison, or even rot in hell."
But Moore was confident he is headed to heaven. When? He didn't know. But, assuredly, some day.
A death row rogues' gallery
Carey Dean Moore has met some of the state's most notorious killers during his 27 years on Nebraska's death row. He talked about two who were executed in the 1990s.
John Joubert, the Sarpy County child killer: Moore described him as a boy who failed to mature. "He was a mixed-up kid. A kid in a man's body."
Harold LaMont Otey, who killed an Omaha college student:
Moore said everyone on death row scoffed at Otey's public claims of innocence and considered Otey "guilty as sin." Inmates believed he was maintaining his innocence only to try to save his life.