High court denies death row appeal of cult leader convicted of murder

World-Herald Bureau, Nebraska/Aprill 18, 2014

By Joe Duggan

Lincoln, Nebraska -- The Nebraska Supreme Court has denied the latest death row appeal of Michael Ryan, a former religious cult leader convicted of the gruesome torture and murder of one of his followers.

In an opinion released Friday, the high court upheld the decision of Richardson County District Judge Daniel Bryan, who dismissed Ryan's motion for post-conviction relief. The decision marks the fifth time Ryan has lost an appeal seeking to overturn his death sentence.

Ryan raised multiple issues in his latest appeal, including the state's purchase of a lethal injection drug that its foreign maker had claimed was stolen by a third-party broker. Bryan ruled that claim involved the method of execution and not issues of constitutional infringement that must be addressed by the court.

As of February, Nebraska prison officials had no way to carry out a lethal injection because the state's supply of one of three necessary drugs had expired. The drug, sodium thiopental, has become very difficult to obtain.

Nebraska has not carried out an execution since 1997, when the state's method was electrocution.

Ryan led about two dozen members of a survivalist religious cult on a farm near Rulo, Neb. He was sentenced to death for first-degree murder for ordering the 1985 torture and killing of James Thimm, 25, one of his followers. He also pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in the killing of 5-year-old Luke Stice, the son of another cult member.

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