First Fentanyl Execution in the U.S.

By William Vogeler, Esq. on August 15, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Carey Dean Moore died by lethal injection. It took about 20 minutes for the drugs to do their work.

Moore was executed for murdering two men in five days. It took almost 40 years for the legal system to do its part.

In Nebraska, everything about the death penalty changed during that time. The last thing that mattered legally in Moore's case was one of the drugs injected into him.

A Fentanyl First

It was the first time Nebraska executed someone by lethal injection. It was also the first time in the country that fentanyl was used in a four-drug, execution cocktail.

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid -- eighty times more powerful than morphine -- and is controversial because Moore could have suffered extreme pain if the cocktail didn't work.

According to eyewitness reports, Moore took short, gasping breaths as the last of the drugs entered his system. His breathing slowed, his chest heaved, and his eyes briefly opened.

Five minutes into it, prison officials lowered a curtain to block the view of media witnesses. Others saw the final minutes when the condemned man's face turned red, then purple, before he expired.

"I Am Guilty"

Despite seven legal challenges that led to the Nebraska Supreme Court, a final rejection from the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court or Appeals, Moore made a final statement admitting his guilt. It came after 39 years and a political battle between legislators and voters.

Lawmakers outlawed the death penalty in Nebraska three years ago, but voters brought it back the next year. By the time Moore was executed, it had been 23 years since the last execution there.

At that time, more than 1,000 people gathered to protest or praise the execution of Harold Lamont Otey by electric chair. When Moore died, about a dozen people stood outside the prison.

"We're sick of hearing about Carey Dean Moore," said Steve Helgeland, whose father Moore murdered. "There was a point in my life when I probably would have pulled the switch myself, but 39 years has a way of dissipating your anger."

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