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Nebraska carries out its first execution since 1997

Last Updated Aug 15, 2018 1:16 AM EDT

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska has carried out its first execution since 1997 with the lethal injection of Carey Dean Moore, who fatally shot two cab drivers almost four decades ago. Moore was executed Tuesday with a combination of four drugs that had never been used before in an execution in the United States, including the powerful opioid fentanyl.

The execution also marked the first lethal injection in Nebraska.

Moore was one of the nation's longest-serving death row inmates. His death comes about three years after Nebraska lawmakers abolished the death penalty, only to have it reinstated the following year through a ballot initiative partially financed by Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Moore remained mostly still but breathed heavily and gradually turned purple while state prison officials carried out his execution. Four media witnesses including an Associated Press reporter saw Carey Dean Moore taking short, gasping breaths Tuesday after the injections started.

Carey Dean Moore

Carey Dean Moore, 60, appears in a police booking photo released by the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services on Aug. 1, 2018.

Nebraska Department of Correctional Services

His breaths then became deeper and more labored. His chest heaved several times before it went still. Over the course of several minutes, his face turned a slight shade of red and then purple. His eyelids briefly cracked open.

The Department of Correctional Services administered the first of the four drugs in the state's lethal injection protocol at 10:24 a.m. Moore was declared dead at 10:47 a.m.

A German pharmaceutical company had tried to block the execution by alleging the state had illicitly obtained at least one of its drugs.

A federal judge, however, refused to stall the execution, which drew very few protesters to the state prison in Lincoln. The holding area outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary was mostly empty around 10 a.m. Tuesday as Moore was killed. A combined total of less than a dozen death penalty supporters and opponents gathered in the rain during the execution.

The light turnout stands in contrast to the 1994 execution of Harold Lamont Otey, when more than 1,000 people created a raucous, party-like atmosphere. Otey was executed shortly after midnight in the electric chair, and some in the crowd sang the song "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" after it was announced.

Death penalty opponents had planned a 5 p.m. rally outside the Nebraska Capitol.