Editor's note: The World-Herald's Joe Duggan was one of four official news media witnesses to Tuesday's execution of Nebraska death row inmate Carey Dean Moore.
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LINCOLN — The inmate shuffled in at 9:03 a.m., his wrists shackled to a leather belt, the leg irons clinking with each step.
Carey Dean Moore had come to listen, then speak, an hour before he would undergo Nebraska’s first lethal injection execution.
He wore tan institutional garb and a gray, trimmed mustache. He was much shorter than the four staff escorts who remained in close contact should Moore try to do anything but walk.
His face was almost unrecognizable compared to the 21-year-old man in the mugshot who had sat in the back seats of two Omaha cabs in the summer of 1979 and coldly snuffed out the two men who drove them.
Now his 60-year-old face looked drained, slightly ashen. And there was nervousness in his expression, perhaps apprehension at what awaited him.
His clear eyes quickly scanned the room, but he mostly looked to the floor as one of the prison officials informed Moore that there had been no last-minute stays of execution. She asked if he wanted to say anything.
“Just the statement I had hand-delivered to you already about my brother, Donny, and the innocent men on Nebraska’s death row,” he said, maintaining his composure.
It was a verbal summary of a hand-written statement in which he asked for an end to the lifetime parole for his younger brother, who Moore took along on the first murder. The letter also urged activists to look into the cases of the 11 men who now remain on death row.
He turned and shuffled out.
It was 9:04.
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The curtains rose at 10:24 a.m. and Moore lay on a padded metal table in the small execution chamber at the Nebraska State Penitentiary.
He had been led into the chamber and strapped onto the table, and he had two intravenous lines placed in his veins and a heart monitor attached to his chest. All of that was done out of sight of the four news media representatives who would witness the execution.
When the curtains lifted, a white sheet covered Moore from the chest down. Leather restraints held his wrists and ankles and about five more stretched across his legs, waist and upper chest. His head rested on a white pillow.
An IV line ran from a small port in a wall behind Moore’s head to his left arm. The line originated in a room behind a one-way mirror where the IV team leader would administer the lethal substances in anonymity.
The administration of each drug from a syringe also took place out of view.
Thick, soundproof glass set in concrete block walls separated the execution chamber from the observation room. So the observers could hear nothing inside the chamber.
A mirror positioned above Moore and to his right, however, made it possible to see the side of his face if he turned away from the windows.
Inside the observation room, a partition separated Moore’s witnesses on one side. The other side was reserved for the news media witnesses and members of the families of Reuel Van Ness and Maynard Helgeland, the two 47-year-old Omaha men shot by Moore in 1979.
None of the victims’ families chose to watch.
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At 10:25, Moore turned his head and looked at the two family members and two friends who had come to be with him. He mouthed the words, “I love you,” repeatedly, lifting his head as if he were trying to say it to each of the four.
Then he turned his head back and looked at the brightly lit ceiling.
Standing at the end of the narrow chamber near Moore’s feet were Scott Frakes, director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, and Robert Madsen, acting warden of the penitentiary.
The scrutiny on Moore’s execution was intense, because Nebraska was using a four-drug combination never tried by another state.
The sequence of drugs consisted of diazepam, a sedative intended to put Moore under; fentanyl, a powerful opioid painkiller intended to slow his breathing; cisatracurium, a muscle relaxant intended to paralyze Moore and stop his breathing; and potassium chloride, intended to stop his heart.
At 10:26 a.m., Moore turned his head slightly to the left and he appeared to try to speak. Moments later, his eyes shut, his expression relaxed and his mouth fell partly open.
His breathing became rhythmic and the fingers of both hands twitched a couple of times before falling still. His chest movements gradually slowed, as if he was in a deep sleep.
Three minutes passed.
At 10:29, the acting warden approached Moore’s face. He brushed the inmate’s eyelid and then checked the pupils with a penlight he’d retrieved from his pocket. The warden, his face just above Moore’s, spoke to the inmate.
No reaction. The consciousness check complete, the warden returned to wait near Moore’s feet.
Under the state’s execution protocol, Moore was to receive only diazepam until he lost consciousness. Then the IV team leader was required to flush the clear tubing with saline solution before giving Moore the remaining three drugs in succession.
Prison officials did not announce when each drug was given. The only indication came when the clear tubing leading from the wall moved from time to time.
At 10:30, Moore coughed a few times and his breathing became more labored. Soon, his diaphragm started heaving and his mouth gaped.
Then, at 10:31, the chest movements subsided and stopped. His facial color, which had been red, started taking on a purple hue.
A corner of the sheet dangling from the table waved slightly in the breeze from a pedestal fan on the floor.
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Over the next seven minutes, Moore made no detectable movements and did not appear to be breathing. The purple in his face deepened slightly and seemed to spread to his fingers.
At 10:38, his eyelids cracked slightly, but he wasn’t looking at anything.
After another minute, the corrections director spoke, his mouth moving silently to the witnesses. A few seconds later, the curtains closed on the observation windows.
At 10:53 — after 14 minutes had passed — the curtains lifted and the sheet had been pulled up to Moore’s neck. His complexion also appeared mottled with a few whitish patches.
The curtains closed for the final time at 10:54.
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Frakes stood before a group of news reporters and said administration of the drugs had started at 10:24 a.m. Moore was declared dead by the Lancaster County coroner at 10:47 a.m.
The execution lasted 23 minutes.
The coroner’s death determination was made out of view of the witnesses.
Based on the chronology compiled by the reporter witnesses, Moore died eight minutes after corrections officials had lowered the curtains. They were not lifted again for another six minutes after the time of death.
Dawn-Renee Smith, chief of staff for the Corrections Department, said the curtains were lowered after the final drug, potassium chloride, was administered. Frakes waited another five minutes before asking the coroner to enter the execution chamber. The curtains were raised after the coroner completed his task and left the chamber.
“I can’t speak as to why, but that is the decision that had been made,” she said. “It’s been that way, it wasn’t a change made to the plan.”
She also explained why the drugs weren’t started until 10:24 a.m., even though the death warrant called for the execution to begin at 10 a.m. She said it took 24 minutes to complete all of the preparation work, including the setting of the IV lines.
Based on training sessions, corrections officials had estimated the execution would take 45 minutes starting from the moment Moore entered the execution chamber. She repeated that the time of death was 10:47 a.m.
“It went exactly according to plan,” she said.