The Nebraska Supreme Court on Wednesday set a March 6 execution date for Michael Ryan, who was sentenced to death for killing James Thimm during ritualistic torture at a farm near Rulo in 1985.
The order came two days after Attorney General Jon Bruning's office filed documents with the high court saying a challenge by Ryan's lawyer of the state's purchase of a lethal-injection drug is "frivolous, dilatory and irrelevant."
Ryan's attorney, Jerry Soucie of the Nebraska Commission for Public Advocacy, said he was "certainly disappointed in the court not first giving us the opportunity to respond to the AG's filing."
"We had some additional information that we thought was necessary for the court to hear,'' Soucie said, adding that more court action on Ryan's behalf is likely. "My expectation would be that some sort of further action will be filed in a lower court --- probably Richardson County (where the crimes were committed) to address the issues. And then we'll go from there."
In a statement, Bruning said, "In light of today's Nebraska Supreme Court ruling setting the execution date for Mr. Ryan, the state will make all necessary preparations to carry out the sentence."
Soucie has said the sodium thiopental Nebraska bought recently was meant to be used for test-and-evaluation purposes in Zambia and was not supposed to be sold.
Nebraska Department of Correctional Services officials said Nov. 3 they paid $5,411 for a supply of sodium thiopental made by Naari, a pharmaceutical company headquartered in Switzerland. The news release did not mention that the drug, while made by Naari, was purchased by a middleman named Chris Harris, who then sold it to the state.
"Although Ryan has failed to present a legally valid theory as to why his death sentence should not be enforced," Bruning's Monday filing said, "Ryan persists in his attempts to delay enforcement by filing pleadings with sensational, false and conclusory allegations concerning the irrelevant issue of the process by which DCS came into the custody of sodium thiopental."
Soucie filed documents with the high court saying Harris and his company, Harris Pharma LLP, were not authorized to sell the drug.
The pharmaceutical company has asked the state to return the drug, saying it was obtained by deception.
Soucie contends that Harris misappropriated the thiopental from Naari, and Nebraska prison officials are in possession of stolen property.
But Bruning said Naari's CEO has reason to lie because intense public opposition to the death penalty overseas could cost the company business if its drugs are used in executions.
He also said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that how a state obtains a lethal-injection drug is irrelevant.
The high court in 2010 vacated the stay of execution for Arizona death-row inmate Jeffrey Landrigan, who had been given a stay when his lawyers argued the sodium thiopental to be used was made by a company outside the United States that was not an FDA-approved manufacturer of the drug. The high court said there was no evidence that showed the drug was unsafe and that "there was no showing that the drug was unlawfully obtained, nor was there an offer of proof to that effect."
Nebraska is among 10 states that have purchased the drug from foreign sources. 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.