LINCOLN — Reuel Van Ness and Maynard Helgeland died almost 39 years ago in Omaha, each of their lives cut short by three bullets.
On Tuesday, Nebraska executed their killer, Carey Dean Moore. The state used four drugs to carry out its first execution in 21 years and its first by lethal injection.
Moore, 60, had served 38 years on death row for the 1979 killings of Omaha cabdrivers Van Ness and Helgeland.
The two were shot five days apart as Moore targeted cabdrivers because he knew they carried cash. Both men were 47 years old, fathers and military veterans.
Corrections Director Scott Frakes said the first of four execution drugs was administered at 10:24 a.m. The Lancaster County coroner declared Moore dead at 10:47 a.m.
Frakes said the execution was carried out with “professionalism, respect for the process and dignity for all involved.”
The scene outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary, where the execution occurred, was subdued on Tuesday morning amid on-and-off rain. About a dozen death penalty opponents prayed outside the prison; only three capital punishment proponents attended. Many more state troopers and media members stood nearby.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, who helped lead an effort to overturn a 2015 repeal of the death penalty by the Nebraska Legislature, spent the morning in a meeting with state agency officials.
“Today, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services carried out the sentence the court ordered in accordance with the will of the people of Nebraska,” Ricketts said in a prepared statement. “The death penalty remains a critical tool to protect law enforcement, corrections officers and public safety.”
Outside the governor’s mansion in Lincoln just after the execution, a handful of protesters stood in the rain, one carrying a sign reading: “Ricketts has blood on his hands.”
Among the death penalty supporters who came to the prison were Vivian Tuttle, whose daughter was slain inside a Norfolk bank in 2002. “I’m here to support the victims,” Tuttle said. “That’s the ones I have to stand for.”
Standing with her was Pierce County Sheriff Rick Eberhardt, who, along with Tuttle, collected hundreds of signatures in support of restoring the death penalty in 2016.
Tuttle’s daughter, Evonne Tuttle, was one of five people killed in a bank robbery in Norfolk on Sept. 26, 2002. Evonne Tuttle, a single mother, went to the bank in Norfolk to cash a $64 check.
Three gunmen from the robbery — Jose Sandoval, Jorge Galindo and Erick Vela — all are on death row.
“I think it’s important that we have voices that still say it’s important that we stand for the death penalty. And for the families of victims,” Tuttle said.
Moore — who had served the longest time on Nebraska’s death row — was led to the execution chamber at 10 a.m. After he was strapped to the execution table, he mouthed the words “I love you” multiple times toward his official witnesses, including a brother and a niece.
His final words were delivered in a handwritten statement: He hoped that lawyers could get his younger brother, Donald, released from parole, and he urged death penalty opponents to pursue claims of innocence by four others on Nebraska’s death row.
Moore also expressed regret in the letter that he hadn’t led the younger brother “in the right way … instead of bringing him down.” Donald Moore, then 14, came along when Carey, 21 at the time, said he was going to rob a cabbie 39 years ago.
“I am terribly sorry. Please forgive me Don, somehow,” Moore wrote.
Steve Helgeland, the youngest son of slain cabdriver Maynard Helgeland, said he was bothered that Moore expressed no remorse for the murders in his final statement.
“I was a little frustrated and angry that he couldn’t even apologize,” he said.
Although not in his final statement, Moore did express sorrow for killing Helgeland and Van Ness in a message shared by his minister at a Tuesday evening rally. Pastor Bob Bryan, a Lutheran minister, said the message had been written in July.
“I marvel at how God is able to work in hearts that has been forced to grapel [sic] with pain and anger, all because of what one man (me) had done — murdering two men. I am so sorry for what I had done to these families, even more than anyone can imagine,” Moore wrote.
“I am thankful for God’s forgiveness for my actions and my sins, and I pray these families will forgive me somehow; it is easy to cause hurt but it takes great strength to forgive,” he continued.
Steve Helgeland and his brother, Kenny, traveled from their homes in South Dakota to be inside the penitentiary when the execution took place, although neither man wanted to witness it.
“We were there just to honor Mr. Van Ness and our father,” Steve Helgeland said.
The four official news media witnesses to the execution said that Moore’s face gradually turned slightly red, then purple, as the four drugs were administered. The execution was the first using the four drugs obtained by Nebraska, over legal objections by death penalty opponents and some drug manufacturers.
The curtain to the execution chamber was lowered at 10:39 a.m. after the fourth drug was administered. The curtains reopened 14 minutes later after Moore was pronounced dead.
World-Herald staff writer Joe Duggan, one of the media witnesses, said that Moore appeared slightly shaken when the death warrant was read to him before the execution.
Duggan called the execution “a monumental day” after the many debates in the state over capital punishment. The death penalty was restored by voters in 2016 by a 61-39 percent margin after a petition drive, in large part funded by Ricketts, placed the issue on the ballot.
In a statement, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said, “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 has now carried out 38 state-sanctioned executions. Moore was put to death using a previously untried four-drug combination of diazepam, fentanyl, cisatracurium and potassium chloride.
He is the first inmate executed using the drug fentanyl, a powerful narcotic painkiller that has contributed to the nation’s epidemic of drug overdoses. He was put to death despite two federal lawsuits filed last week by drug companies seeking to keep their products from being used.
The state’s last execution before Tuesday took place in 1997, when the electric chair was the method. Lethal injection was adopted in 2009 after the State Supreme Court outlawed electrocution as cruel and unusual punishment.
Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska, released a statement saying the 38-year journey to Moore’s execution proves that the death penalty “is a broken process from start to finish and should be abolished nationwide.”
Conrad criticized Ricketts, saying that he “carried out a lethal injection shrouded in secrecy” and that the execution did not fit with Nebraska’s tradition of open government.
About 175 people gathered on the steps of the State Capitol Tuesday evening for a rally organized by Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Speakers included State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln and several clergy members.
Matt Maly, operations coordinator for the group, said the opponents will continue working against the death penalty and wanted to take their message to state decision-makers, rather than focus it on the prison.
“This isn’t about Mr. Moore,” he said. “This is about the death penalty.”
Said Pansing Brooks in a statement: “Until we can stop our bloodthirsty quest for vengeance and replace that reprehensible priority with a higher level of vision and understanding of who we can become as a collective, our souls are as doomed and guilty as the condemned and executed. Please pray for Nebraska as a whole.”
With Moore’s death, there are now 11 men on Nebraska’s death row.
In July, the State Supreme Court set what turned out to be the eighth and final execution date for Moore. His previous scheduled executions all were stayed for a variety of legal reasons.
No such stay came Tuesday. Moore didn’t want one, telling family, friends and reporters that he was tired of living so long on death row. A born-again Christian, Moore had said he sought and believed that he had received God’s forgiveness for his crimes.
Prison staff moved Moore from death row at the Tecumseh prison to the penitentiary on Friday night, and he was afforded extended visiting hours with family and friends, a prison spokeswoman said. On Monday night, they shared a meal of pizza from Pizza Hut, along with strawberry cheesecake and Pepsi.
David Moore of Lincoln, the condemned inmate’s twin brother, said Moore will be cremated and a private service held Saturday. David Moore, along with his daughter, Taylor Moore, were among the inmate’s four witnesses on Tuesday.
David Moore said his brother had long wanted to have his death sentence carried out. Although he said he loved his brother dearly, he wanted what his brother wanted.
“The only fear he expressed was that he would be lying on the table waiting to be injected and all of a sudden the governor calls and says there’s going to be a stay,” David Moore said.
Taylor Moore, 21, said she wanted to be there so her uncle would see people who loved him as he died. They arrived at the prison at 4:30 a.m. and spent about 3½ hours with him before preparations for the execution began.
She did not excuse her uncle for his horrible crimes, but she said he long ago changed. The Carey Dean Moore she knew was kind, funny and loving.
She commended the corrections staff for treating them all respectfully during the process. And she said her uncle had expressed remorse repeatedly to her and other family members for taking the lives of Van Ness and Helgeland.
Neither witness saw any signs indicating that Moore experienced pain or difficulty during the execution.
“I was happy knowing that he was finally happy and at peace,” Taylor Moore said. “I cried, but I wasn’t like mad that it was happening. I was relieved.”
World-Herald staff writer Jeffrey Robb contributed to this report.
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