A Nebraska court won’t consider a death row inmate’s appeal raising questions about the state’s new lethal injection method and how the drugs needed for it were obtained.
Michael Ryan, who sentenced to death for cult-related killings in 1985, should have filed a different kind of motion to challenge Nebraska’s execution method, according to a Richardson County District Court ruling on Thursday rejecting Ryan’s appeal. The Nebraska Supreme Court had blocked Ryan’s execution while the motion was pending.
“We’re pleased with this ruling _ it’s time for defense counsel to stop wasting the court’s time and money with frivolous, meritless motions,” Attorney General Jon Bruning said Friday.
Richardson County District Judge Daniel Bryan said that Ryan’s challenge of the execution method couldn’t be raised in a motion for post-conviction relief like Ryan filed. Instead, Bryan suggested Ryan should have based his challenge on federal civil rights laws.
Ryan’s attorney, Jerry Soucie, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message Friday morning.
Ryan was convicted of torturing and killing James Thimm at a southeast Nebraska farm where Ryan led a cult near Rulo in 1985 and beating to death the 5-year-old son of a cult member.
When Ryan was sentenced to death, the electric chair was Nebraska’s sole method of execution. But the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that death via electrocution was cruel and unusual punishment and the state Legislature changed Nebraska’s method to lethal injection.
Ryan’s lawyer argued it was improper and unfair to change the execution method years after Ryan was sentenced in 1986. Soucie also argued Ryan’s sentence should have been commuted to life in prison because Nebraska used questionable tactics to obtain sodium thiopental, a hard-to-find drug for executions.
Sodium thiopental is no longer manufactured in the United States and is in scarce supply worldwide. Soucie cited claims by a Swiss manufacturer of the drug, Naari AG, that the sodium thiopental Nebraska bought was a sample intended only to be used for evaluation purposes in Zambia.
Bruning has defended the state’s purchase of the lethal injection drug as legal.
At the time of the killings near Rulo, Ryan and about 20 cult members lived at the farm and stored weapons in preparation for a final battle between good and evil.
Ryan, known to cult members as the “King,” ordered the murder of Thimm because Ryan believed he had displeased God. Over three days, Thimm was beaten, sexually abused, shot, stomped and partially skinned while still alive. His fingertips had been shot off on one hand.