Death-row inmate Michael Ryan lost his latest appeal Friday, opening the door
for Attorney General Jon Bruning to again seek a death warrant for the man
convicted of one of the most heinous murders in Nebraska history.
Richardson County District Judge Daniel Bryan Jr. rejected Ryan's appeal, which
had resulted in the Nebraska Supreme Court issuing a stay of his March 6
Ryan's lawyer, Jerry Soucie of the Nebraska Commission of Public Advocacy,
argued that Ryan was sentenced to die in the electric chair, which the state no
longer uses. Nebraska switched to lethal injection after a 2008 state Supreme
Court ruling that said the chair was unconstitutional and cruel and unusual
punishment. At the time, Nebraska was the only state with electrocution as its
sole means of execution.
Soucie asked that Ryan's death sentence be reduced to life without parole.
He was convicted in the cult-related 1985 killings of James Thimm, 26, and Luke
Stice, 5, near Rulo and was sentenced to death for Thimm's murder.
"More than 25 years ago, Michael Ryan was found guilty and sentenced to death
for brutally torturing and murdering another man," Bruning said. "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."
In his order, Judge Bryan said courts have jurisdiction in such cases only if
"a prisoner under sentence asserts facts that claim a right to be released on
grounds that there was a denial or infringement of state or federal
constitutional rights that would render the judgment or conviction void or
"Here, Ryan … is asking that his death sentence be vacated for constitutional
infringements and that he be sentenced to life in prison without parole. The
grounds he alleges occurred well after the final judgment in the criminal mater
and do not deal with the judgments of the death sentence ordered by the court,
but deal with the method of inflicting the death penalty."
That issue, the judge said, has already been decided by the Nebraska Supreme
Court in death-row cases in 2006 and 2008.
Soucie said Friday he has to consult with Ryan on what their next course of
action might be. They can ask Judge Bryan to reconsider his ruling, or they can
appeal the decision to the Nebraska Supreme Court.
Bryan did not specifically address Soucie's challenge of how the state got one
of three lethal-injection drugs it has on hand.
Late last year, Nebraska prison officials said they bought sodium thiopental
made by Naari, a pharmaceutical company headquartered in Switzerland. In fact,
they bought the drug from a middleman named Chris Harris, who bought it from
Naari and then sold it to the state.
Soucie said Harris and his company, Harris Pharma LLP, were not authorized to
sell the drug. The shipping manifest from Naari to Harris Pharma, dated Sept.
30, 2011, says: "Samples have no commercial value. Samples not for sale. Free
trade sample." Further, it says the drug is "for test and evaluation purpose."
That, Soucie contends, means Harris misappropriated the thiopental from Naari,
and Nebraska prison officials are in possession of stolen property.
Sodium thiopental has been in short supply since 2010, when the only U.S.
manufacturer, Hospira Inc., ended production because of death-penalty
opposition from overseas customers.
Nebraska is among 10 states that have purchased the drug from foreign sources,
but the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has seized supplies from several
of them because they were imported illegally or because of questions over how
they were manufactured. Nebraska twice has bought sodium thiopental made
overseas. The DEA did not seize the first batch but told the state it could not
use it because it was imported illegally. Nebraska then got a proper import
license and recently bought a supply from the middleman.
Sodium thiopental recently became even harder to get after the European Union
instituted a new rule prohibiting the export of some barbituric acids,
including sodium thiopental.
Nebraska's 3-drug protocol calls for a dose of sodium thiopental to render the
inmate unconscious, followed by pancuronium bromide to paralyze him or her,
then potassium chloride to stop the heart.
(source: Lincoln Journal Star)