Scheduled execution brings flurry of activity


February 23rd, 2012

Lincoln, NE – Michael Ryan is scheduled to die by lethal injection early next month. It would be a historic first use of the method in the state.

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The state has been prepared and willing to resume the use of capital punishment since the fall of 2010. A series of legal challenges and missteps in the acquisition of the needed drugs to carry out the procedure have kept prison officials from proceeding.

Three men currently on death row have been actively attempting to delay or stop their execution, including Ryan.

Carey Dean Moore was to have been the first to die by lethal injection last summer. He has successfully used a variety of appeals to delay his execution. He has spent more time on death row than any of the current residents. The Nebraska Supreme Court heard the first appeal of Marco Enrique Torres, Jr. late last year; he’s the newest of those facing a death sentence in Nebraska. The Court upheld his sentence.

Here’s a summary of where each of the current cases stand.


Convicted: 1986 in Richardson County.

The Crime: One count first-degree murder; one count of second-degree murder of a child.

Michael Ryan is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection early next month. (Photo credit Lincoln Journal Star)

In the mid-1980s, Michael Ryan, an unemployed truck driver, believed he had a direct connection with his god, Yahweh. He convinced a small group of followers to move onto a farm near Rulo, Neb. to prepare for what they believed to be the imminent start of the battle of Armageddon. Cult members who fell out of favor were subjected to beatings and sexual abuse. At one point, Ryan struck a five-year-old boy, Luke Stice, knocking him unconscious. No one sought medical help and the boy died. A few weeks later, one of the adults, James Thimm, was tortured for four days by Ryan and three other men. The details are horrendous. After his arrest, Ryan pled no contest in the death of the boy and was convicted of first-degree murder for killing Thimm.

The Appeal: A number of appeals on Ryan’s behalf in both state and federal courts have been rejected. The last legal filings are in response to Nebraska’s switch from the electric chair to the use of lethal injection to carry out the death penalty.

Ryan’s attorney raised questions about the source of Nebraska’s supply of the anesthetic drug sodium thiopental, which prison officials obtained from an overseas broker.

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services was forced to get rid of one batch of the drug they purchased from India, apparently because they didn’t follow federal prescription drug regulations. NDCS obtained a second shipment through an intermediary based in India.

Ryan’s attorney, Jerry Soucie of the Commission on Public Advocacy, argues Nebraska obtained the drug illegally on both occasions, which justifies delaying the execution while reviewing whether the Department of Corrections broke any laws. (No federal or state agency seems poised to proceed with that investigation.)

The Nebraska Attorney General dismisses the entire line of appeal as “a sideshow” and insists there are no grounds for a delay based on the drugs’ point of origin or how they were acquired.

The Status: The Attorney General’s arguments prevailed at every stage of the process. So far.

In January, the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected Ryan’s arguments without comment, allowing the execution to proceed as planned on March 6. His attorney responded by filing a new appeal in the Richardson County District Court (where the crimes originally occurred) in an effort to get a judge to reconsider sentencing based on the allegations about the drug’s origins. The judge’s ruling is expected any time.


Convicted: 1980 in Douglas County

Carey Dean Moore was scheduled to die last summer, but has used a series of appeals to delay his execution. (AP Photo/Nebraska Department of Corrections via The Lincoln Journal Star)

The Crime: Two counts of first-degree murder During two separate robberies in 1979, Moore murdered a pair of Omaha cab drivers, Reuel Van Ness and Maynard Helgeland. Because Moore admitted he targeted the men because they were older and would be unlikely to defend themselves, the killings were considered especially heinous.

The Appeal: The Supreme Court set an execution date last year, but later delayed it while the justices reviewed the issues raised about the use of lethal injection. They have since rejected all pleas for a stay of execution. His attorney requested Douglas County District Judge Thomas Otepka reconsider the death sentence. In denying the request, Otepka stated the court’s duty was to determine only whether Moore had received a fair trial before he was sentenced. Otepka ruled Moore had been treated fairly.

The Status: As of now, the State has not set a new date for Moore’s execution, but nothing currently stands in the way..


Convicted: 2009 in Hall County

The Crime: Two counts of first-degree murder

In 2007, Torres murdered two men, Edward Hall and Timothy Donohue, in a home in Grand Island, Neb., apparently as part of a robbery, and fled to Texas. The sentencing judges found both the murderers’ attempt to conceal the crime, combined with the brutal nature of the homicide, to warranted the death penalty.

The Appeal: In Torres’ first appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court, he argued 11 separate issues that entitled him to a new trial or a reduced sentence. These included the judges’ failure to consider methamphetamine use as a reason Torres was not in control of himself at the time of the crimes.

The Status: While finding some “harmless” errors in the manner in which evidence was allowed into the trial, the Nebraska Supreme Court found all 11 of Torres’ claims to be “without merit.”

Torres is the most recent addition to Nebraska’s death row.


There are currently 11 men on Nebraska’s death row at the State Correctional Institution in Tecumseh.

Three of them were involved in the killing of five people during a 2002 bank robbery in Norfolk.

One, John Lotter, murdered Brandon Teena, the transgendered subject of the film “Boys Don’t Cry,” and two of his friends.

Six of them are accused of murdering children.

No one has been executed in Nebraska since 1997. If no stay of execution is issued, Michael Ryan will become only the 24th person in the state and the first by way of lethal injection.

One Response

  1. bill a says:

    if the means to execute these felons was acquired illegally, doesn’t this mean that the weapon is illegal and isn’t the executioner himself therefore a murderer and shouldn’t he be executed once a legal drug can be found

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