The US state executes the first ever prisoner with a powerful drug fentanyl

Carey Dean Moore, sentenced to death for two murders in 1979, was the first prisoner executed in the Midwestern state in 21 years, in what was his first ever lethal injection.

The 60-year-old was pronounced dead at 10:47 (1547 GMT). The execution lasted about 20 minutes, according to Scott Frakes, director of the Nebraska Department of Prison Services.

Moore’s execution survived a last-minute legal challenge from a pharmaceutical company and protests over the new lethal injection protocol.

Small vials of fentanyl, a new drug being tested by law enforcement for lethal injections.

Small vials of fentanyl, a new drug being tested by law enforcement for lethal injections. sources: AP

It was a critical test for Nebraska, where the state legislature abolished the death penalty in 2015, only to see voters reinstate it the following year in a referendum. The state carried out the last execution in 1997 in an electric chair.

“I recognize that today’s execution impacts a lot of people on many levels,” said Frakes.

The execution was carried out with “professionalism, respect for the process and dignity for all involved,” he said.

Fentanyl killed more than 20,000 people in the United States in 2016. It is 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine.

Questions about the drugs used

The lethal injection consisted of the sedative diazepam to induce unconsciousness, the pain reliever fentanyl citrate, the muscle relaxant cisatracurium to stop breathing, and potassium chloride to stop the heart.

Only potash was used before in the executions.

Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the new procedure is an indication of the problems states are having in acquiring drugs for the death penalty.

“It indicates states are looking for available drugs,” Dunham told AFP.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers and suppliers have been increasingly hostile to selling such drugs to states. Officials across the country had to rush to find the execution drugs they needed or find alternatives.

Dunham said Nebraska’s use of fentanyl was particularly problematic, because use of the potent opioid is tightly controlled by law and the state has not disclosed its source for the drug.

“How they got it is highly questionable,” he said.

The courts intervene

Last week, German pharmaceutical manufacturer Fresenius Kabi challenged Nebraska regarding two other drugs in the protocol, claiming the company was the likely source of the substances, and if so, Nebraska obtained them improperly.

He asked the state to disclose the source of his drugs.

But the state insisted that the drugs be legally acquired, and both a federal judge and an appeals court have sided with Nebraska.

Scott Frakes Director of the Nebraska Department of Corrections, releases a statement after Carey Dean Moore’s execution. sources: AAP

Not even the pope himself has been able to change Moore’s fate.

Two weeks ago Pope Francis changed the teaching of the Catholic Church, declaring the death penalty “inadmissible” in all cases.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, a Catholic who supported the reintroduction of the death penalty, was adamant.

“While I respect the pope’s perspective, capital punishment remains the will of the people,” Ricketts said.

‘I am guilty’

Moore had been on death row for 38 years and did not want further delays in his execution.

In 1980, while still a little over 20 years old, he was sentenced to death for the one year earlier murder of two Omaha taxi drivers five days apart.

Expressing contrition, he admitted shooting the first driver to death during a robbery committed with his brother and killing the second driver to “foolishly” prove to himself that he could commit murder on his own.

Five people will be executed. sources: AP

In his final words, Moore alluded to a written statement dated Aug.2, in which he pointed to other inmates on Nebraska’s death row claiming their innocence.

“I am guilty, they are not,” he wrote. “Why do they have to stay there one more day?”

Moore also asked his brother for forgiveness.

Moore’s execution was the sixteenth in the United States this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.