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Nebraska Carries Out First Execution In More Than 20 Years

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Nebraska did something today that hasn't happened in the state for more than 20 years. It executed an inmate who was on death row. It was the first time the state performed lethal injection and thought to be the first time in the U.S. that a common painkiller has been used in the process. Grant Gerlock of NET News has the story.

GRANT GERLOCK, BYLINE: The execution began at 10 o'clock Central Time this morning, and it wasn't until about an hour later that word came that Carey Dean Moore was dead.

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SCOTT FRAKES: The first of four substances were administered at 10:24 a.m. The Lancaster County coroner produced Moore's time of death at 10:47 a.m.

GERLOCK: That's Nebraska corrections director Scott Frakes reading a statement after Moore was executed by lethal injection for murdering two cab drivers in Omaha in 1979. That's right - 1979. Moore had been on death row for 38 years. Before today, Nebraska went more than two decades without carrying out a death sentence. But it wasn't for lack of trying. After switching to lethal injection in 2009, there were years of long legal delays and botched attempts to secure execution drugs. Then in 2015, the state legislature repealed capital punishment. Former state Senator Colby Coash of Lincoln helped lead the effort. He spoke to NET News in 2016.

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COLBY COASH: And the practical reality of the death penalty in Nebraska is this - we haven't used it, and there's a reason for that. And the reason is we can't. The ship has sailed. It is a broken system.

GERLOCK: But later that year, a ballot initiative brought the death penalty back with strong backing and financing from Republican Governor Pete Ricketts. In a statement today, Ricketts called the death penalty a critical tool for law enforcement. Death penalty opponents say they'll try again to repeal it. Another first for this execution was that Nebraska included a version of the opioid fentanyl in the process. Ali Dering-Anderson is a pharmacy professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She says that using fentanyl may give people a different perspective because while the drugs used in lethal injections are usually unfamiliar, fentanyl has been making national headlines for its role in causing overdoses.

ALI DERING-ANDERSON: It causes people to stop breathing if used in large doses. And now the state has chosen to use this side effect to end someone's life.

GERLOCK: While this may have been the first lethal injection in Nebraska, it may also be the last for the foreseeable future. One of the other drugs in the execution cocktail is set to expire in a few weeks. Corrections director Frakes has said no new suppliers have been found. For NPR News, I'm Grant Gerlock in Lincoln, Neb. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.