J. KEMPER CAMPBELL
“From Your Friend, Corey Dean: Letters from Nebraska Death Row” by Lisa Knopp, Cascade Books, 164 pages, $21 (paperback).
Lisa Knopp is an English professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha who lives in Lincoln. His latest nonfiction book is a summary of his 23-year correspondence with Carey Dean Moore, who was incarcerated on death row at Nebraska state prisons in Lincoln and Tecumseh for 38 years. Author Knopp is certainly not the first writer to sympathize with a convicted murderer awaiting execution. Truman Capote’s classic “In Cold Blood” is the epitome of this genre.
In August 1979, 21-year-old Moore shot and killed an Omaha taxi driver for stealing $70. A week later, he had also murdered another Omaha taxi driver with no money. He was quickly arrested, confessed to his crimes, tried and sentenced to death in 1980. On August 14, 2018, he became the last person to be executed in a Nebraska prison.
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Moore also became the first and only Nebraska prisoner to die by lethal injection rather than hanging or electric chair. His execution was the first in the United States to use fentanyl as one of the substances injected.
Any correspondence requires two people, and the life and character of the author Knopp are frankly revealed as completely as those of the prisoner. His lifelong belief in the abolition of the death penalty introduced him to Moore. However, by the end of their decades of letters, phone calls, and brief prison visits, she considered him a friend.
Moore’s conversion to fundamentalist Christianity coincided with the author’s belief system, and the book is full of biblical quotes.
Capital punishment, like abortion, is a subject that arouses strong opinion among virtually all citizens. Knopp provides his honest reasons for quitting the practice. Ironically, Moore provides an equally compelling case for law enforcement as he ultimately refused any further attempts to appeal his conviction.
His description of his life in solitary confinement is both depressing and claustrophobic. However, he feared that switching to life imprisonment would lead to him being released into the general prison population, which he said would be even less bearable. After preparing many scheduled execution dates that were postponed or canceled, he felt that certain death was preferable.
This book is recommended for readers who are serious about whether Nebraska should continue to put felons to death since there are still 12 people on death row.
This moral decision will inevitably become a political topic to be considered in the future. Knopp’s book should be read by every lawmaker involved.
J. Kemper Campbell, MD, is a retired Lincoln ophthalmologist who once performed eye surgery on a death row inmate who was chained to the operating table.