Carey Dean Moore is the senior
member of a select group of seven men in Nebraska. He wishes he didn’t
Moore’s tenure on the state’s
death row since June 1980 is involuntary. Nearly two dozen others have come
and gone. A few died awaiting their final fate. Some had sentences commuted
to life in prison. Others have been released because new evidence raised doubts
about their guilt. Three have been executed.
In the lengthy appeals process
afforded to death row inmates in this country, Moore has only one legal hope
left — that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up his case — before
the ultimate sanction is performed. If his last option fails, Moore’s
life will end as a lethal combination of drugs courses through an IV.
The judicial process has provided
a roller coaster ride for Moore. Last year, a three-judge federal appeals
court panel voted 2-1 to vacate the death sentence. But two months ago, the
full court reversed the decision by a 7-6 vote.
Moore, now 45, admits killing two
taxi drivers during drug-induced robberies in August 1979. “I didn’t
care about hurting people then,” Moore recalls. “I didn’t
care what happened to me.”
That same month, overcome with
the mess his 22-year life had become, Moore accepted Jesus as his Savior in
a county jail in Omaha. A three-judge panel convicted him of two counts of
first-degree murder in 1980.
Because of his admiration
for Assemblies of God Chaplain Marv Watson, Moore last month granted
PE Report his first interview since being incarcerated 23 years
ago. As he eyes Watson’s arrival for a visit at Tecumseh
State Correctional Institution, he beams broadly and waves. Moore
doesn’t fit a killer’s stereotype. He has a slight
build. He is quiet. He chooses his words carefully. He hugs and
jokes with Watson.
Moore says he couldn’t
have survived this long without Watson, who for 13 years has visited
him weekly for an hour-long personal Bible study. “Many
weeks Marvin has been the only one to come in to see me,”
Moore says. “I don’t know where I’d
be in my Christian walk if it wasn’t for Christian volunteers.”
The extraordinary length of Moore’s
time on death row — the national average is 10 years — has been
both a blessing and a curse. The longer Moore lives, the stronger Christian
he becomes and the more he can evangelize the few he comes in contact with
in prison: guards, attorneys, his 11 siblings and other death row prisoners.
Yet awaiting state-imposed death is nerve-racking. Only 1 in 100 convicted
murderers receives a death sentence.
Moore isn’t allowed to attend
church services or Bible studies with other inmates. For 21 hours a day he
sits alone in his cell, where he spends a great deal of time reading the Bible
and Christian literature that Watson has given to him, including Today’s
Despite being in a visiting area
under the watchful eye of three guards and four surveillance cameras, Moore
converses with Watson on a level of trust that he’s never experienced
with anyone else.
Until last year, Watson only had
to drive a few blocks from his home in Lincoln to visit Moore at the state
penitentiary. But last year death row moved to this new facility on the north
edge of Tecumseh, 50 miles southeast of the state capital.
Whether his appeal is successful
or whether he is executed, Moore says he is grateful for a secure eternity
“For several years I could
not forgive myself for killing two men,” says Moore, who has spent more
than half his life on death row. “I caused pain to their families and
my own family. Marvin encouraged me to forgive myself and have faith that
God has forgiven me. God is more than able and willing to forgive our sins.”
Ministry in Lincoln
Watson has a pleasant personality, uncomplaining attitude and ever-present
smile. He spends most of his ministry time at the Nebraska State Penitentiary,
where he conducts Bible studies, counsels inmates, conducts worship services
and visits hospitalized inmates.
He first ministered in prison in
1989, an ironic step of faith since he was serving as a judge at the time
(see sidebar on next page). “God opened my eyes that inmates are no
different than anyone on the outside,” Watson says. “They are
human beings who need Christ.”
After four years of volunteering,
Watson left his secure job of 19 years as an associate county judge. His wife,
Jane, quit her job as a bank teller. They formed the non-profit Impact Ministries
and now rely on donations from churches and individuals as full-time volunteer
chaplains in Nebraska prisons.
Nebraska State Penitentiary Warden
Michael L. Kenney, 50, is a Watson supporter.
“Marv has a great compassion
for the inmates,” says Kenney, who, like Watson, attends Christ’s
Place in Lincoln where David Argue is pastor. “His motive is to share
the love of Christ and assist prisoners in becoming whole in an honest way.
Marv’s ministry is critical if men’s lives are going to be changed
to the point where they won’t return.”
At 61, Watson is a father figure
for many inmates. If Watson didn’t disciple many of these men, no one
On this particular Bible study
day, black, Hispanic and white inmates watch with rapt attention a Christian
video about life’s hurts. Watson finds videos are a teaching method
that all can follow, regardless of reading ability. Once a week he also sponsors
a Spanish-language video series.
The study is held in the chapel,
a 72-year-old brick building in the middle of the compound. This is the same
building where four inmates gagged, hog-tied and held Watson hostage for more
than two hours in 2001 as part of an escape attempt. Despite the trauma, Watson
returned the next week, as usual.
A free-flowing and theologically
deep discussion about anger and guilt ensues following the video. Inmates
pray about letting go of bitterness. Watson stresses the importance of allowing
the Holy Spirit to have control.
“Marv pours out his heart
here faithfully,” inmate William H. Brown says in an interview afterwards.
“He has a great ear and a great shoulder — he takes our burdens
as his own.” Brown, 45, is familiar with recidivism studies that show
a released inmate is less likely to return if he has a genuine Christian faith.
He says his conversion to Christianity after being imprisoned three years
ago for burglary saved his troubled marriage.
“Brother Marvin is my only
mentor here as an elder,” says Lynn Finney, 49. Finney used to be a
fitness trainer to athletes, movie stars and singers — before being
convicted of forgery to buy cocaine. Finney likes the concrete information
presented at the meetings and he takes copious notes during class in an effort
to change his behavior.
Lionardo Ramirez, 43, says the
gatherings provide inner peace that is a relief from the boisterous barracks
where he lives with 85 other prisoners. He accepted Christ as Savior in 1998,
just after being arrested for “one night of stupidity” in which
he beat up relatives of his ex-girlfriend.
Ramirez, who is dyslexic, never
learned to read while spending his childhood shuttling between various orphanages.
Brown taught Ramirez to read the Bible last year through practical application.
Ramirez taught himself to play the piano and guitar. Brown pointed out that
Ramirez’s musical ability didn’t happen without practice. Brown
told Ramirez the same holds true for the Christian walk: a follower must read
the Bible and pray daily to be effective.
prays with inmate Barb Roth.
wife of nearly 43 years, Jane, does similar volunteer work at
the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York, 50 miles west
of Lincoln. Part of that involves meeting biweekly with 30 women
for individual 30-minute prayer and counseling sessions.
“Deep down, a lot of them
are just looking for someone to love them,” Jane Watson says.
Barb Roth, 39, has been at the
York prison for a year after a possession of methamphetamine conviction. Her
husband is in the Lincoln penitentiary until July 2004. Because Roth is in
the substance abuse unit, she isn’t allowed to attend Bible studies
with other inmates, so Watson conducts a personalized Bible study with her.
“Jane has been there for
me,” Roth says. “She’s prayed with me, cried with me and
been unbiased in loving me. She listens to me and gives me words of encouragement.”
Watson says isolation allows inmates
to reflect on what they have done and she has seen tremendous spiritual growth
“Being in prison has made
me realize I caused a lot of pain for others,” Roth says. “I have
a hard time forgiving myself. I have to remember that God forgives me. If
I don’t, I play God, which is what got me here.”
Although Roth has a bachelor’s
degree in quality management, the felony drug sentence prevents her from securing
another job as a plant inspector. Yet she realizes that finding a church is
just as important as finding work when she is paroled this month.
“If they don’t have
spiritual support when they get out, they won’t make it,” says
Jane Watson. Every week the Watsons transport newly released inmates to church.
In the meantime, women in the York
penitentiary have hundreds of Christian books available in the chapel library
that have been donated by churches and individuals. There are many competing
spiritual voices at the facility. Of the 260 inmates, 25 list their religion
Marv Watson knows the importance
of Christian literature for inmates, and he regularly takes periodicals
such as Today’s Pentecostal Evangel
to those not allowed or able to meet with other Christians because
they are in segregation, protective custody or hospitalized. “Inmates
will usually pick up literature that is available to them because
most don’t have funds to purchase books or magazines,”
he says. “Christian literature can produce a positive attitude
of hope to balance the negative environment many live in.”
W. Kennedy is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
E-mail your comments