LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Miriam Thimm Kelle knows she has every reason to support the execution of perpetrators of the state’s most gruesome crimes.
Cult leader Michael Ryan is on Nebraska’s death row for orchestrating the ritualistic torture and murder of her brother, James Thimm, at a farm near Rulo in 1985. Thimm was beaten, sexually abused, stomped and partially skinned while still alive. His fingertips had been shot off on one hand. Ryan, who told followers he heard the voice of God through his arm, also was convicted in the beating death of 5-year-old Luke Stice.
“If there’s anyone that should die of the death penalty, it would be Michael Ryan,” Kelle said, “but I don’t feel that we have the right to say who should live or die.”
Kelle said that’s for God to decide, and she and other death penalty opponents will sit down with state senators this month to ask them to repeal the death penalty.
“Can we be brave and remove the death penalty for the better of all Nebraskans?” Kelle asked at a press conference Monday with Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty.
The group’s lobbying effort represents a new strategy in the decades-long debate at a time when the death penalty may be on shaky ground in Nebraska and beyond, said Amy Miller, president of the anti-death penalty group.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in a case from Kentucky that calls into question the mix of drugs used in lethal injections in many states. Nebraska is the only state that has the electric chair as its sole means of execution, and the Nebraska Supreme Court is considering whether that is cruel and unusual punishment.
New Jersey’s legislature voted last month to abolish the death penalty, joining 13 other states with no death penalty law.
In a pre-session survey by The Associated Press, 11 of Nebraska’s 49 state senators said they supported repealing the death penalty — versus six last year. Twenty-three said they opposed a repeal, versus 29 last year. Others were unsure or didn’t respond to the survey.
Last year, a vote on whether the death penalty should be repealed failed first-round approval by a razor-thin margin: 24-25. Senators are expected to consider a similar measure in the session that begins Wednesday.
Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, speaker of the Legislature, has pointed to the heinous 2002 Norfolk bank killings in which five people were shot to death as an example of why the death penalty is needed. Three of the four killers are on death row.
But Miller said lawmakers need to stop making “substitute judgments” by assuming they know what family members of those killed want.
Kurt Mesner came to the state Capitol Monday to hear Kelle speak and lend his support.
“The state doesn’t have a right to kill people,” said Mesner, 46. He was 18 when Randolph Reeves killed his sister and Victoria Lamm while drunk and high in Lincoln in 1980.
Reeves came within 40 hours of being executed in 1999 before the state Supreme Court withdrew his death warrant to hear a last-minute appeal. Reeves was resentenced to life in prison without parole after justices ruled that three-judge panels must be unanimous when sentencing someone to death.
Mesner said he never attended the trial.
“I was afraid that would bring the anger,” he said. “I didn’t want to know how she suffered.”
A Lincoln Police officer also will be urging state senators to repeal the death penalty.
Jim Davidsaver said the economic cost of the state executing prisoners is excessive.
In 21 years as a police officer, he’s investigated hundreds of violent criminals, he said.
“I cannot think of any one of them that was deterred in the least by the fact that Nebraska has the death penalty,” Davidsaver said.