Carey Dean Moore set to be executed in August, but victim’s son unconvinced it will happen

Carey Dean Moore set to be executed in August, but victim’s son unconvinced it will happen
Carey Dean Moore (World-Herald News Service)

LINCOLN — The son of an Omaha man murdered nearly 40 years ago still doubts his father’s killer will die, even as an Aug. 14 execution date has been set for Carey Dean Moore.

“Been down this road before,” said Steve Helgeland of Rapid City, South Dakota. “Until it happens, I don’t have any faith Nebraska will get it done.”

The Nebraska Supreme Court issued a death warrant Thursday that puts Moore in line to be the first inmate executed in 21 years and the first to be put to death by lethal injection. The electric chair was the state’s execution method in 1997 when capital punishment was last used.

In a case that has now lasted 38 years, the courts have issued multiple stays preventing Moore’s scheduled executions. But he currently has no legal challenges pending.

“Carey Dean Moore’s death sentences have been final for 21 years. All subsequent court challenges have been exhausted,” said a statement issued by the office of Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, who requested the death warrant. “The Department of Correctional Services is prepared to carry out the court’s order.”

Moore, now 60, shot Omaha cabdrivers Maynard Helgeland and Reuel Van Ness five days apart in 1979. He was sentenced to death in 1980 and has served more time than any of Nebraska’s other 11 death row inmates.

The execution warrant says the Department of Correctional Services shall carry out the sentence by “administering to appellant, Carey Dean Moore, an intravenous injection of substance or substances in a quantity sufficient to cause death, as provided by law.”

The execution must take place between 12:01 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 14, says the warrant, signed by Chief Justice Michael Heavican.

An attorney recently appointed to represent the condemned inmate said Thursday he has no plans at this time to file motions to block the execution. Jeff Pickens with the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy said he has recently spoken with his client, but he declined to share details of their conversation.

Moore has told The World-Herald that he does not plan to contest his execution. In response to news that the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska sought to file a brief in Moore’s case, he reiterated that position in a recent letter.

“Are you people listening to me?” he asked.

Billy Dickson of Omaha, who first corresponded with Moore about 20 years ago as part of a Christian ministry, said Thursday that Moore has told him he’s tired of living on death row. Dickson said Moore believes he has been forgiven by God.

“For his good and for the victims’ families, I would hope this time it is carried out, as much as I will miss him,” Dickson said. “I have hope that I will see him again.”

Prison officials announced late last year that they had obtained lethal injection drugs to carry out executions. The four-drug combination, which includes the powerful opioid fentanyl, has never been used in an execution by any state.

One of the state’s drugs is set to expire at the end of August. The attorney general had asked the Supreme Court to set the date on July 10, citing concerns about the drug expiring.

Although the court didn’t follow the attorney general’s suggestion, the timing of the execution date led State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha to accuse the judges of being political rather than judicial.

“This court should not have allowed the expiration date of a drug to signal the expiration date of the court’s responsibility to observe the Constitution, the laws and proper judicial procedure,” he said.

The Supreme Court most recently stayed Moore’s execution in 2011 over questions about how the state’s foreign supplier of a lethal drug had obtained the substance.

One of two current lawsuits challenging the legality of the death penalty raises concerns about how prison officials devised the new four-drug combination. A lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit is on appeal.

Amy Miller, legal director with the ACLU of Nebraska, also called it “incredibly troubling” that prison officials have withheld records about the lethal drugs that a judge recently said are public and must be released. That case also is on appeal.

But Moore has refused to join any of the lawsuits.

Now the state stands on the verge of using a punishment outlawed by the Nebraska Legislature in 2015 over the veto of Gov. Pete Ricketts. A year later, voters reinstated capital punishment after Ricketts and other death penalty supporters funded a petition drive.

Fran Kaye of Lincoln, a longtime anti-death penalty activist, said she was saddened and angered by Thursday’s development. She compared the state’s repeated efforts to execute Moore to psychological torture.

“Breaking somebody’s spirit and making somebody give up after all these years … that’s not going to make anybody safer,” she said.

Steve Helgeland, who was 13 when his father was murdered, said more than anything, he wants an end to the legal wrangling. If Moore’s sentence were commuted to life and he disappeared from the headlines, Helgeland said, that would be fine by him.

If the execution takes place on Aug. 14, Helgeland said, none of his family plans to witness it.

Instead, he will gather with his brother and sister and they will pray for their father. They also will pray for Moore.

“I have no interest in watching him die. It’s not going to do anything for me,” he said.