Carey Dean Moore

Carey Dean Moore, 53, has been on death row since 1980. He was sentenced to die for killing two Omaha cab drivers in 1979. (JACOB HANNAH / Lincoln Journal Star)

Carey Dean Moore has spent more time on death row than any other Nebraska inmate. He's had several executions stayed. But he faces the inevitability of death -- he can't run from it, he says, and he can't hide from it, either. 

TECUMSEH -- Carey Dean Moore speaks in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Today," he says on June 14, "I would have been executed."

When the day you are set to die comes and goes, Moore said, you are not left with a sense of invincibility. Instead, there is more time to think about the end, and the events that led him to where he is.

When he was a teenager, Moore's thoughts often turned to death, too.

"I thought about what it would be like to kill somebody," Moore said. "That sounds horrible, but it's true."

These were not thoughts he shared with others, he said.

"I did not have any trust for anyone."

At his sentencing hearing in 1980, three of Moore's siblings told a three-judge panel how badly his father beat him with electric cords and leather straps as a child. He was in and out of foster homes and often in trouble in the years before he became a murderer, they said.

Moore quickly dismissed any distrust and harsh upbringing as excuses for what he did.

"When I killed the two men, that was my responsibility, my fault," he said. "The devil didn't make me do it. That was just me."

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At 25, Moore argued that he was under the influence of tranquilizers and deserved a new trial. At 27, he tried and failed to escape death row by trading clothes with his then-incarcerated twin brother, David. Through his 30s, he challenged the language of Nebraska's statutes regarding aggravating circumstances in the capital punishment law. A federal court vacated his death sentence in 1994, but he was re-sentenced to death in 1995. Now Moore's case is cited in the annotations of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances statute under a section that expands upon the definition of "exceptional depravity."

Thirty-one years have passed since Moore first was sentenced to death, on June 20, 1980, for shooting and killing Omaha cab drivers Reuel Van Ness Jr., and Maynard Helgeland, both 47.

Moore remains on death row, by far the longest-serving inmate of the 11 men sentenced to die in Nebraska.

"I am very much tired of death-row life," said Moore, 53. "I don't want anyone to think, ‘Poor me.'

"I am guilty."

* * *

During an interview with the Journal Star, Moore was willing to answer every question asked of him but one. While he frequently admitted his guilt, said often that he wished he had not involved his younger brother, Donald, then 14, in the first shooting, he would not chronicle what happened. When asked to, he simply said, "No."

Moore has detailed the killings in a small pamphlet he wrote on July 4, 2007, a little over two months after the execution date he did not challenge was stayed. In the pamphlet, Moore describes how he came to believe that "God has a special work for me to do yet, before he calls me home to be with him forever."

"Let me ask you a most serious question," he wrote. "Don't you need a loving personal Savior, even One who accepts you and who will love you and forgive you no matter what you have thought about or what you have done or will do?!

"I do!"

Of his crimes, he wrote this:

"A long time ago, I was two months from being 22 years old when on August 22, 1979 I brought along my 14 year old brother with me when we robbed a cab driver; as soon as this man stopped his car, I pointed my 32 automatic gun at the back of his head and said that I wanted his money. Instantly, he reached back to take the gun from me but it fired even quicker! One bullet went through his hand, another bullet near his spine, and another bullet hit his head; and then in the silence I heard his words that echo in my heart today, ‘Okay, okay, I quit.'

"But it was simply too late for this man, and it was too late for us as well to turn back the clock of life; I told Donny to put his body on the parking lot ground as I busied myself wiping down the back seat area to get rid of our fingerprints; we drove off leaving him to die by himself. Today, I wonder, was Jesus there, comforting this hurt man in his last minute or two before he shut his eyes to this life for ever? This man's name is Reuel Van Ness, Jr. And my name is Carey Dean Moore. I am a murderer!

"Five nights later on the 27th, I had to foolishly prove to myself that I could take a man's life all by myself; I entered another cab, and when he stopped at my destination I shot three bullets into this second man, right in his head. His name is Maynard Helgeland. On the 29th, Donny was apprehended; a couple hours later, so was I."

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While on death row, Moore said, he has become a born-again Christian. His pastor, Geoff Gonifas of Wheatland, Wyo., says Moore's conversion is genuine.

Gonifas first agreed to meet Moore in 2005, after praying for three months about whether to go to the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution to meet a death row inmate for the first time in his life.

Gonifas said he had consulted with prisoners before and found that they often had ulterior motives for seeking his counsel. "But (Moore) had absolutely none," he said.

Who Gonifas found, he said, was a personable man who not only is remorseful but also repentant for his crimes. During his first visit, Gonifas said, Moore wept as he told him of the killings.

Since then, he said, they correspond frequently, study the Bible and have prayed together often. In Moore, Gonifas said, he has found a brother in Christ.

"People may find that hard to accept, but I'm afraid it's true," Gonifas said.

Four years ago, Moore told his attorneys to stop fighting, and said he was ready to die. He dropped his remaining appeals.

Moore had been transported from Tecumseh to the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. He had prepared his last words. He knew he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes combined with his twin brother's when he dies and have them scattered together.

"I don't want to be contained in a box anymore," he said.

But the Nebraska State Supreme Court on May 2, 2007, began the process that would result in the elimination of the electric chair and granted him a stay of execution.

"I was very angry with God for about a year, and I was confused," Moore said. "Very confused. I mean, I gave up my appeals.

"There has to be a reason God stopped it."

* * *

On May 25, the Nebraska State Supreme Court granted Moore his most recent stay of execution. He is not asking for his death sentence to be commuted, but allowed his attorneys to seek the stay based in part on what he and they say is the questionable purchase of one of the three drugs required to perform a lethal injection. It was granted while the drug purchase and other legal issues are challenged in a case filed in Douglas County District Court.

"For some odd reason, I allowed my attorneys to fight it," Moore said. "They are very dedicated, dependable people."

His best guess, Moore said, is that he will not be executed unless Nebraska officials seek a substitute for the drug state officials bought from a pharmaceutical company in India to inject into him.

"It seems like they should have had warning that they'd have a problem," Moore said. "Someone, or all of them, must be incompetent."

The state, in court filings, has argued that Moore's allegation is speculative at best.

"Moore also makes no allegation or showing that the sodium thiopental in (Nebraska Department of Correctional Services) possession is not, in fact, sodium thiopental and offers nothing more than rank speculation that the sodium thiopental in the possession of DCS is not capable of performing the function for which it is intended under the DCS Execution Protocol," the filing reads. A spokeswoman with the Nebraska Attorney General's Office said the state's brief regarding Moore's stay of execution request speaks for itself.

* * *

Moore said he spends about 20 hours a day alone in his cell on a typical day. He reads. He prays. Especially around the holidays, he said, he prays for the families of the two men he killed.

"It must be very hard on them," he said.

Even though he received his most recent stay three weeks before the set execution date, Moore said he counted down the days until June 14. He compared his situation to that of someone diagnosed with terminal cancer. He cannot run from death, he said, and he cannot hide from it.

"You might as well just think about it," Moore said. "Even if I am executed a year from now, or two years, or never, I guess that's up to God."

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Reach Cory Matteson at 402-473-7438 or cmatteson@journalstar.com.



Features reporter

Cory Matteson is a features reporter.

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