Nebraska carries out first U.S. execution using opioid fentanyl

Erika Holt
August 17, 2018

Nebraska experienced a series of firsts on Tuesday morning: the state's first execution in 21 years, its first lethal injection and the country's first death sentence carried out with fentanyl, which has helped drive the opioid epidemic.

At the center of this was Carey Dean Moore, the 60-year-old inmate executed after spending more than half his life on death row.

Moore, who killed two taxi drivers five days apart in 1979 and was one of the longest-serving death row inmates in the U.S., declined to make a last- minute appeal.

A growing number of states have done away with the death penalty in recent years, including DE, which abolished its use in 2016, and Maryland, which did the same in 2013. Two drug companies are trying to halt the execution, arguing the state say may be using their drugs. "I am guilty, they are not", he wrote.

Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska, said in a statement that Moore's 38-year journey to the death chamber "further proves what we've been saying all along ... the death penalty in America is a broken process from start to finish and should be abolished nationwide". He also drew attention to the plight of innocent men on death row.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, a Catholic who supported the reinstatement of the death penalty, was resolute. But Ricketts, a Republican, and his wealthy family bankrolled a ballot referendum that gave voters a chance to decide the issue.

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Amnesty International denounced the state's move to participate in "the ultimate denial of human rights" after having carried out no executions since 1997. The Associated Press reports that Nebraska protocol calls first for Diazepam, also known as Valium, to be administered through an IV to leave the inmate unconscious. The state's supply of one of the drugs used in the mixture to kill Moore expires at the end of this month and another expires in October.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that between 2015 and 2016, the rate of drug overdose deaths in the USA involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl had doubled. The company makes cisatracurium besylate and potassium chloride, and said it opposes use of its products in executions.

Nationwide, an increasing number of pharmaceutical companies have taken legal action against states that use their products in executions, making it increasingly hard for states to obtain the drugs. (The modern execution high-water mark was 99, in 1999.) But with a state that once seemed on the anti-death-penalty vanguard carrying out the killing, and a resolutely pro-death penalty judge about to take a spot on the Supreme Court, it looks like the complete abolition of capital punishment is still a long ways off. The judge also noted that Moore had stopped fighting the state's efforts to execute him. An appellate court also ruled against the German firm on Monday.

According to University of Nebraska College of Law professor and lethal injection expert Eric Berger, if the substances do not work as planned and he is not properly sedated before the potassium chloride is injected, Moore could feel like he's being "burned alive from the inside".

Oklahoma announced earlier this year it would begin using nitrogen gas to carry out its executions.

MS and Alabama have also passed legislation that would allow for asphyxiation with nitrogen gas if lethal injection drugs are not available.

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