At 10:47 a.m. on Aug. 14, Carey Dean Moore was pronounced dead, about 20 minutes after the first of four drugs were injected into his blood stream. Moore sat on death row for 38 years, convicted of killing two Omaha cab drivers in 1979. He had abandoned all appeals and said he was prepared to die after watching seven other execution dates come and go.
But Moore’s voice was only a small one in the turbulent debate about the death penalty and its implementation in Nebraska. The Journal Star covered the legal twists and turns, the real people and families involved, provided a forum for public debate and played a key role in holding the state accountable for its lack of transparency.
In the 21 years since its last execution, the state dismantled its electric chair and adopted lethal injection as its means to end a life. After the Legislature’s 2016 abolition of the death penalty and then its reinstatement by popular vote, a new execution protocol was developed, seemingly without research, review or even an email string, according to responses to Journal Star open records requests.
The Journal Star filed a lawsuit – additional suits were filed by the Omaha World-Herald and the ACLU – calling on the state to turn over all details of the execution protocol and its purchase of lethal drugs. A month before the execution, we won the suit. With the drugs set to expire, the state appealed and was granted the right to move ahead with the execution.
Mere days before the execution, drug makers jumped into the fray, arguing that the execution drugs were obtained illegally, sending our journalists on new angles to cover. Again a judge refused to halt the execution.
Through extensive interviews with the victims’ families, the killer’s brother and others involved in the investigation and prosecution, we gave readers personal insights into the crimes and the punishment, right up to Moore’s last meal of Pizza Hut and cheesecake with his family.
On the day of the execution, we provided minute-by-minute coverage inside and outside the prison via our website and social media. Even when it was over, it wasn’t. We filed another -- successful this time -- open records request to discover what happened after prison officials drew a curtain between Moore and the state-appointed witnesses for 14 minutes in the middle of the execution.
Independently, on our Opinion Page, we have always supported life imprisonment without parole over the death penalty. We continued with our stance, adding an additional point that death penalty or not, the state’s lack of transparency regarding drugs and the creation of the execution protocol was unacceptable for a state meting out the ultimate punishment.
We employed long-form narrative, legal tools, old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting, social media, advocacy journalism, our extensive archives and relentless deadline reporting to give an engaged audience an understanding of what capital punishment looks like in the 21st century, what it means for the 11 others on Nebraska’s death row and what it means for other states looking to learn from Nebraska’s struggles to obtain and use lethal injection drugs.