Court: Bruning's office can keep death row case

2011-12-21T22:00:00Z Court: Bruning's office can keep death row caseBy LORI PILGER / Lincoln Journal Star
December 21, 2011 10:00 pm  • 

The state's high court has denied a defense request to kick the Nebraska attorney general's office off of death row inmate Michael Ryan's case.

In a three-paragraph order filed Wednesday, Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican said the court found the arguments in support of the motion to be "unpersuasive and without merit."

Ryan's attorney, Jerry Soucie of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, made the unusual request because of circumstances in the case he described in a November filing as unprecedented.

He said Attorney General Jon Bruning's office twice had advised the state Department of Correctional Services on buying supplies of the lethal-injection drug sodium thiopental. The first batch was ruled to have been illegally imported.

How the state acquired the most recent supply also came under scrutiny. The Swiss pharmaceutical company that made the sodium thiopental later asked the state to return it, saying it was obtained by deception.

The company, Naari, said it gave the drug to a middleman, Chris Harris, to be used as an anesthetic in Zambia, and later learned he sold the drugs to Nebraska.

In response to Soucie's filing, a spokeswoman with the attorney general's office said there was no legitimate reason it be recused from the case.

And Corrections Department officials have stood by their most recent purchase of sodium thiopental, one of three drugs in Nebraska's lethal-injection protocol.

In a Nov. 3 news release, corrections officials said they paid $5,411 for 485 grams of the drug.

The move opened the door for the state to resume executions. And, soon after, Bruning asked the Supreme Court to set an execution date for Ryan, who ran a cult on a farm near Rulo. That request still is pending.

As part of Wednesday's order, the court denied a defense motion to stay proceedings for issuing a death warrant in the case.

Ryan was sentenced to death for killing James Thimm during ritualistic torture at the farm in 1985.

​Reach Lori Pilger at 402-473-7237 or or follow her on Twitter at LJSpilger.

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