A man, who declined to be identified, kneels outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Picture: Eric Gregory/Lincoln Journal Star via AP
A man, who declined to be identified, kneels outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Picture: Eric Gregory/Lincoln Journal Star via AP

Death row body swapper’s last wish

OUTSIDE the gates of the Nebraska State Penitentiary, an unknown male kneels and stares at the ground.

He's saying a prayer for the first man executed in the "Cornhusker State" since 1997, as Carey Dean Moore takes his final breaths a few hundred metres away and mouths the words "I love you" to family. 

Nebraska used a drug combination never tried before to end the life of the two-time killer, aged 60, on Tuesday. They injected him with drugs including the powerful opioid fentanyl.

He was pronounced dead at 10.47am on Tuesday. Reporters watching on, including those from the Associated Press, saw him take "short, gasping breaths that became deeper and more laboured" as the drugs did their job.

His eyelids closed and briefly cracked open during the 14-minute execution. At one point, he turned his head and mouthed the words "I love you" to family.

Weeks earlier he used his final statement to make a plea for his baby brother and his brothers on death row.

It was the seventh time Moore faced executioners but on each previous occasion the execution was halted at the last minute.

The "cabdriver killer", who was sentenced to death at the age of 22 for killing two taxi operators in Omaha in 1979, faced the prospect of death by electric chair on one occasion.

He organised his cremation and memorial service, practised his dead-man walk to the chair and ordered his last meal of pizza and strawberry cheesecake, according to local newspaper the Omaha World-Herald.

But when it didn't go ahead, he was shattered.

"I felt like a flat tyre," he told the paper afterwards. "Air came out of my mouth. I was so disappointed.

"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."

When it finally did end on Tuesday, the victims' families were not in the viewing gallery. They have suffered enough, for long enough, as Moore became the state's longest serving inmate on death row.

"We're sick of hearing about Carey Dean Moore," Steve Helgeland, the son of one of Moore's victims, Maynard Helgeland, said ahead of the execution.

Mr Helgeland said the numerous delays in executing Moore had left him ambivalent.

"There was a point in my life when I probably would have pulled the switch myself, but 39 years has a way of dissipating your anger," he said.

 

Carey Dean Moore was executed this week. Picture: The Lincoln Journal Star/AP
Carey Dean Moore was executed this week. Picture: The Lincoln Journal Star/AP

 

Moore never denied the crimes that put him there. Arrested in 1979 with a gun and a stolen car, he admitted to shooting two cabbies during what started as attempted robberies.

He killed Reuel Van Ness, a father-of-10, for just $140. Moore's younger brother, Donald, then just 14, went along for the ride. Moore shot Van Ness three times and left him bleeding to death in the back of his cab.

Less than a week later he killed Helgeland, a father-of-three, during an attempted robbery. He didn't take any money after shooting the 47-year-old three times in the head, as the cab driver slumped over his wallet and Moore couldn't bring himself to move the body.

In a bizarre turn of events, Moore got in another cab with intent to kill the driver before he got in Van Ness's cab. Armed with a handgun, he quickly realised the cab was being driven by his mother.

He asked her to drive him home.

"It surprised me so much. I had the gun with me. I knew what I wanted to do," he told the World-Herald.

"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."

On death row, Moore made headlines around the world when he successfully pulled off a body swap with his brother, Harry David, who had been jailed for burglary.

It was 1984 and the pair, finding themselves reunited, swapped clothes and swapped places. It lasted 20 minutes before a cook noted that the death row inmate looked like he'd gained significant weight.

Moore wrote a final statement in early August with a last wish: to get his brother Donald off parole over the first of his two murders.

"I wish they would file a motion for my brother Donald to get him off parole which he has been on since forever it seems like, than (sic) that would be perfect for me.

"As his older brother whom he looked up to, I should have led him in the right way to go instead of bringing him down, way down, and because of that I am terribly sorry.

"Please forgive me, Don, somehow."

He also asked for mercy for those on death row "who claim to be innocent".

"I am guilty. They are not!" he wrote.

When asked on Tuesday if he wanted to say anything else, he asked that nothing further be recorded beyond his statement.

The execution drew only about a dozen death penalty supporters and protesters who stood in the rain outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. But later in the day more than 150 people gathered outside the Nebraska Capitol building to protest the execution.

The light turnout stood in contrast to the 1994 execution of Harold Lamont Otey, when more than 1000 people created a raucous, party-like atmosphere. Otey was executed shortly after midnight in the electric chair, and some in the crowd sang the song Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye after it was announced.

 

- with AP