Arizona executed an inmate Wednesday for killing and dismembering his adoptive mother while he was out of prison on furlough for another crime, despite a spate of last-minute appeals over his mental disabilities and how the state has changed and violated its own execution protocol.
Just before he was put to death, Robert Henry Moormann used his last words to apologize to his family and to the family of an 8-year-old girl he kidnapped and molested in 1972.
“I hope this brings closure and they can start healing now,” he said. “I just hope that they will forgive me in time.”
Moormann is the first Arizona inmate to be executed with one lethal drug, as opposed to the state’s long-standing three-drug protocol.
The switch was made after corrections officials realized Monday that one of the three drugs had expired. In doing so, they violated their own new written execution protocol by giving Moormann only two days’ notice of how he would be put to death instead of seven days’ notice, as stipulated in the protocol.
Moormann appeared to move more than other inmates executed with the three-drug protocol. Unlike the other inmates, who appeared to fall asleep immediately, Moormann kept his eyes open during the entire execution.
Arizona joins Ohio, Texas and several other states that last year made the switch to pentobarbital after the only U.S. manufacturer of execution drug sodium thiopental said it would discontinue production.
In July, the only U.S.-licensed manufacturer of pentobarbital announced that it would put the drug off-limits for executions. And a company that bought the pentobarbital line in December is required to also keep it from use by prisons for executions.
Once states use up their current supplies of pentobarbital, executions could be delayed across the country as officials look for yet another alternative.
Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a request for a stay, the two-member execution team gave the lethal injection to Moormann at 10:23 a.m. The 63-year-old was pronounced dead at 10:33 a.m.
The execution happened just a minute’s drive away from the Blue Mist Motel, where on Jan. 13, 1984, he beat, stabbed and suffocated his adoptive mother, Roberta Moormann, 74, who sexually abused him into adulthood, according to defense lawyers.
He cut off her head, legs and arms, halved her torso, and flushed all her fingers down the toilet. He then went to various businesses asking if he could dispose of spoiled meat and animal guts before he threw most of her remains in trash bins and sewers throughout the dusty town, about 60 miles southeast of Phoenix.
Moormann was captured after he asked a corrections employee to dispose of what he said were dog bones.
He killed the woman while on a three-day “compassionate furlough” from the prison in Florence, where he was serving nine years to life for kidnapping and molesting an 8-year-old girl in 1972.
The killing prompted the state to stop its policy of allowing such leaves, and they’re still not allowed.
Tom Rankin, who was Florence’s police chief at the time of the killing and interviewed Moormann just afterward, said he attended the execution to get some closure in the case, which was the only one of Rankin’s that resulted in the death penalty.
“It’s over,” the former chief said outside the prison. “It was a horrible crime.”
Rankin, who retired from the police department in 1994, rejected arguments from defense attorneys about Moormann being too mentally disabled for the state to legally execute.
“Those are excuses attorneys try to dig up to save someone’s life. It just costs the taxpayers more money,” he said. “The man knew what he was doing. There was no doubt in my mind.”
Moormann lost a recent flurry of appeals over a number of issues, including two on Tuesday at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Although a three-judge panel declined to delay Moormann’s execution, it issued a strong warning to Arizona officials who have continuously changed and violated their own execution policy, saying the state has forced the court “to engage in serious constitutional questions and complicated factual issues in the waning hours before executions.”
“This approach cannot continue,” the panel wrote. “We are mindful of the admonition requiring us to refrain from micromanaging each individual execution, but the admonition has a breaking point.”
Unless Arizona officials make permanent changes, the judges wrote that the court might have to start monitoring each individual execution in the state to make sure the law is followed.
Dale Baich, one of the attorneys who filed an appeal in the 9th Circuit on behalf of Moormann, was at the execution and said that the process appeared to be more transparent than in the past because the injection site was visible.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said, but added that he will continue to challenge the new execution protocol because it gives corrections Director Charles Ryan too much discretion.
A different 9th Circuit three-judge panel turned down a separate filing from Moormann that sought a delay in his execution over arguments about his mental disabilities.
Moormann’s attorneys have argued in courts at every level that the Flagstaff man should not be executed because multiple psychologists have diagnosed him as mentally disabled.
State law prohibits executing the mentally disabled or those who have IQs lower than 70.
Prosecutors argue that Moormann’s mental capacity at the time of the killing was just above the legal requirement for mental impairment.
Moormann’s attorneys also were unsuccessful in arguing to courts and a clemency board that because Roberta Moormann sexually abused her adoptive son throughout childhood and into adulthood, it would be “unconscionable” to execute him.
Moormann was born to a 15-year-old prostitute who died when she was 17. He bounced around six foster homes before being adopted by the Moormanns in Flagstaff when he was 5.
At his clemency hearing in Florence on Friday, Moormann said he accepted responsibility for killing his mother but that he didn’t remember much about it.
“It was me playing with her breasts, and that is the only part I remember,” Robert Moormann said. “I carried her in the bathtub and I knew something was wrong, so I put her in bed. I do not remember cutting her up. Sorry.”
He told the board that he wasn’t sure why he can’t remember the details of the killing but wondered aloud if it might be because of a stroke he had in prison in 2007.
“I accept responsibility for what happened that night,” he said. “The only two people in that room were her and me. I know I’m guilty of the crime. I wish I could go back and undo it, but I can’t.”
At the time of the killing, Moormann also told authorities conflicting stories about the death, saying that he accidentally suffocated her during sex and later that she had begun sexually abusing him again, prompting him to kill her in a fit of rage.
Medical examiners found no evidence of sexual contact between the two the night of her killing. They also found that she had been alive when she received cuts and bruises covering her body and that “the dismemberment showed no rage, but rather a methodical, meticulous activity,” court records say.
A jury convicted Moormann of first-degree murder after two hours of deliberations, rejecting his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Although the trial judge did find that Moormann had an impaired ability to understand right from wrong, the judge cited several reasons why Moormann deserved the death penalty, including that the murder was especially heinous and cruel.
Of the 129 inmates left on Arizona’s death row, just six have been there longer than Moormann.
Robert Charles Towery is scheduled to be executed March 8. Towery, who has a clemency hearing set for March 2, was convicted of killing a man while robbing his home in 1991.