Carey Dean Moore’s execution demonstrates a misunderstanding of justice

Photo courtesy of Nebraska Department of Correctional Services

Will Patterson

Carey Dean Moore had been sitting on death row for more than three decades. On Aug. 14, his execution was carried out via lethal injection, marking the end of Nebraska’s 21-year abstention from capital punishment.

Moore’s execution gained nationwide interest. Major publications from across the country, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, had articles about Nebraska’s landmark execution. Despite the widespread coverage, an important element has been largely absent from media attention—Moore’s humanity.

Nebraska has had a complex relationship with capital punishment. Governor Pete Ricketts has been an intense promoter of capital punishment, while the Nebraska state legislature united in 2/3rds vote to abolish the death penalty.

For a brief moment, it appeared that Moore might be destined for a life sentence instead of an execution. Ultimately, Ricketts crusade for reestablishing Nebraska’s capital punishment would be successful. Through petitions and public election, the state restored its vindictive policy.

A conversation with University of Nebraska at Omaha professor Lisa Knopp can shed light on Moore’s often overlooked personality. Knopp, an English professor, considers herself a friend of the now deceased death row inmate.

Following the execution of Harold Lamont “Wili” Otey, a fellow death penalty protestor had recommended that people get in touch with those on death row. Knopp took up the suggestion and eventually met Moore. They first got in touch May 1995.

“He immediately told me that he had killed two people and that he was guilty. That was one of the very first things he told me,” Knopp said.

At the time, Moore had been regularly visited by a pastor who had grown too ill to keep visiting. He asked Knopp to help find him a new pastor.

“I had no intention of becoming friends,” Knopp said. “I was just going to help him find the Christian fellowship he wanted, and I thought, ‘that will be that.’ I didn’t want a pen pal.”

But then Moore sent a letter. According to Knopp it was thoughtful and inquisitive and she responded. As of last summer, he had sent her 320 letters. Using these letters, Knopp plans on writing a book about her friendship with Moore.

“The stories I tell about him communicate his humanity. That he’s a remarkable person with integrity,” Knopp said. “He wasn’t always that way, but that was the man that I knew.”

Knopp’s description of Moore illustrates a very different man from what the media has painted. To the average Nebraska citizen, the name Carey Dean Moore is more closely associated with homicide than an actual human. This isn’t to say that the crime didn’t happen. The man himself made it very clear that he had killed and that he was guilty.

In last handwritten statement, Moore wrote about his concern for his brother who he involved in the murders and fellow death row inmates who he feared may be innocent. This final act depicts a character unseen by most Nebraskans. It communicates the intentions of a changed man.

The ultimate question that must be answered in this capital punishment debate is: when has justice been done?

I argue that extinguishing a life does not improve Nebraska’s well-being. In fact, the act pushes Nebraska further into a deep misunderstanding of crime.

Furthermore, I argue the man Nebraska killed was very different from the man who killed two men in Aug. 1979. After spending nearly two-thirds of his life in prison, Moore had undergone a transformation. This should have been the justice sought by our government.

There are others on death row. They have been convicted of horrible crimes. In the coming years Nebraskans will be faced with the decision to either indulge in senseless revenge or strive towards understanding and developing a greater meaning of justice.