Nebraska Executes First Inmate in 21 Years Using New Drug Cocktail

LINCOLN, Neb. (CN) – When the heart of convicted double-murderer Carey Dean Moore stopped at 10:47 a.m. on this rainy Tuesday morning, the prolonged effort by Nebraska officials to execute a prisoner via lethal injection came to fruition.

“Earlier today, the state of Nebraska carried out the death sentence ordered by the Nebraska Supreme Court,” Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, a Republican, said in a statement. “Our sympathy is extended to the families of Reuel Van Ness and Maynard Helgeland for the loss of their loved ones nearly 39 years ago. Today’s somber event serves to provide a measure of closure for what has been a lengthy enactment of justice.”

Nebraska last executed a prisoner in 1997 using the electric chair, since outlawed by the state’s high court. Moore’s execution marked the first use in the nation of a previously untested 4-drug cocktail of diazepam, fentanyl citrate, cisatracurium besylate and potassium chloride.

According to media witnesses, the execution itself appeared to go off without a hitch.

One observer, Brent Martin of Nebraska Radio Network, noted the process took longer than numerous lethal injections he’s witnessed in Missouri. At one point Moore’s face turned red, then purple, which Martin said he hadn’t before seen. Corrections officials also closed a curtain to shield Moore from observers for a short period, which was not explained.

Martin said the processes used by the two states differ and that officials on Tuesday were perhaps more diligent since it was the first time lethal injection was used in Nebraska.

The process took approximately 23 minutes to complete, according to Corrections Director Scott Frakes.

Following the execution, Frakes applauded the work of his department throughout the process. “This agency has [carried out the order] with professionalism, respect for the process and with dignity for all involved,” he said.

A handful of filings in the last week threatened to derail the execution, notably a federal lawsuit from pharmaceutical company Fresenius Kabi USA objecting to the use of drugs it produces. However, U.S. District Judge Richard G. Kopf refused to delay Moore’s execution, remarking in court that “the time has come.”

Moore’s wish for the sentence to be carried out and his request to dismiss his court-appointed attorneys weighed heavily on Judge Kopf’s decision.

“There is absolutely no doubt of his competence or his guilt. I will not allow the plaintiff to frustrate Mr. Moore and the laws of the state of Nebraska by plaintiff’s last-minute lawsuit,” Kopf said of the Fresenius Kabi lawsuit.

Kopf’s decision was upheld by the Eighth Circuit on Monday, and Fresenius Kabi said it would not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last month, the drugmaker Alvogen sued Nevada over its plans to use the company’s midazolam in a planned execution. In contrast to the Nebraska case, a federal judge there delayed the execution indefinitely while that case plays out.

Moore was convicted of murdering two taxi drivers in 1979 and has spent nearly four decades on death row. The Nebraska Supreme Court has approved execution dates for Moore eight times.

In a statement, Nebraska Democratic Party chair Jane Kleeb spoke to the contentious path the state has followed in order to put Moore to death.

“Gov. Ricketts proclaimed Nebraska as a ‘pro-life’ state this year and today he uses a drug cocktail never used before to kill an inmate. Against the wishes of the pope, Catholic bishops and the Legislature, Ricketts used millions of his own money for revenge,” Kleeb said.

Since he became governor in January 2015, Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, made clearing the backlog of death row prisoners a central goal for his administration, though the issue was a persistent thorn in his side that year. The Legislature voted to abolish capital punishment in the state and overrode a Ricketts veto one week later. At that time, Ricketts’ strategy was to obtain a usable three-drug cocktail, going as far as contracting with a small pharmaceutical broker in India to import the drug, despite objections from the American Civil Liberties Union and warnings from U.S. Food and Drug Administration that it is illegal to import sodium thiopental. The FDA subsequently blocked shipment of the $54,400 order from India, as promised.

Undeterred, Ricketts financed Nebraskans for the Death Penalty with least $300,000 of his own money to put an initiative on the ballot this November to restore capital punishment in the state. Referendum 426 passed with 60 percent of the vote.

Eleven men remain on Nebraska’s death row. John L. Lotter has spent the most time on death row among current inmates, although earlier this year his attorneys argued his IQ is too low for him to be executed. Lotter murdered three people, including Teena Brandon in a 1993 case that inspired the Academy Award-winning film “Boys Don’t Cry.”

Inmate Jose Sandoval is apparently the next in line, however, as the Department of Correctional Services has already notified him it intends to seek his execution. A death warrant has not been issued, however, and Sandoval is fighting the state’s efforts. He is one of three men sentenced to death in the murders of five people during a botched bank robbery in Norfolk, Nebraska.

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