Cheerfully speaking ill of the dead

michael-ryanIn a post entitled An irrelevant and selfish concern for the quality of my sleep, I noted that I was conflicted over the death penalty. Today, I illustrate one side of that conflict.

Last Sunday, Michael Ryan died on death row in a Nebraska prison. He was 66. He had been there 30 years. According to the Omaha paper, he was suffering from terminal brain cancer.*

Ryan was a white supremacist. He and his group of followers had loose ties to the Posse Comitatus and links to the Christian Identity movement. His teachings included the supremacy of the white race, the inherent evil of Jews, and a distrust of all established earthly authority, including governments. 

For me, Ryan’s death is a pleasant surprise. I know that sounds bad, but it is manifestly the truth.

Consider what I wrote when denying his habeas corpus petition:

This is a death penalty habeas corpus case. It involves the most horrendous torture and sickening murder imaginable. There is not the slightest doubt about the petitioner’s guilt. If any man deserves to be put to death, that man is Michael Ryan.

Michael Ryan (Ryan or the petitioner) was sentenced to death for torturing and then killing James Thimm. Ostensibly in the name of his God, and over a period of two days, Ryan and others at his direction tied and chained Thimm in a hog confinement shed; on several occasions sodomized Thimm with a shovel handle or a pick handle to the point that the man’s guts ruptured; whipped and beat Thimm; shot off some of the victim’s finger tips; partially skinned Thimm alive; and caused the man’s bones to be broken, once using a piece of lumber and a block of wood to complete the fracture of a leg with one blow. After that, Ryan stomped Thimm to death. Although a five-year-old child, Luke Stice, was also killed a month or so earlier as the events culminating in Thimm’s death boiled up, Ryan did not receive the death penalty for that crime [but was sentenced to life in prison].

Ryan v. Clarke, 281 F. Supp.2d 1008 (D. Neb. 2003).

I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell. It is enough for me that Ryan is dead and gone.


*Clarification: Ryan was not executed. He died probably as a result of his cancer. An autopsy will be conducted. The precise cause of death will be known publicly when that procedure has been completed.

13 responses

  1. Pingback: When The Hammer Hits The Right Nail | Simple Justice

  2. Judge:
    Concerning this person’s death, the famous Johnny Rotten quote about the death of Elvis Presley (I myself take no position about Mr. Presley, either personally or professionally) comes to mind: “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

  3. In the mid-90’s a group of influential liberal state senators told me that the Death Penalty would never be repealed in Nebraska as long as Michael Ryan was alive.

  4. No one could mourn for Ryan. On the other hand you comments at times remind me of Margot Asquith’s comment about Lord Cruzon,”there but for the grace of God goes God.

  5. Vince,

    If his death is a harbinger of the death of the death penalty, I will not weep. All the best.


  6. Seems like a real sweetheart. No doubt such a “true” believer would never take it upon himself to ignore the scriptures so perhaps one of the wise individuals that read your blog can direct me to the specific verses that call for the:
    whipping and beating;
    breaking of bones;
    shooting off of finger tips;
    sodomizing with a shovel handle or a pick handle; and
    last but not least skinning a person alive.
    Strangely enough in my reading of the Bible I’ve completely missed them.

    Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of the death penalty simply due to the fact that it is very permanent and as long as judges, juries and lawyers consist of humans there is always the possibility of error. Up until now I only felt the death penalty appropriate for those b@$(%)#$ that create computer viruses but perhaps I can also consider “whipping, beating, bone breaking, finger shooting, garden handle sodomizing, live human skinning” sc&$^%#bags as fitting the bill as well.

  7. Speaking of housekeeping:

    Your imbedded link,

    An irrelevant and selfish
    concern for the quality of my sleep.

    is not highlighted and a lazy few may miss that click which is a must read considering the tone of this post.

    It has been an interesting and tragic pallet of current events since your post about Nebraska’s elected ones reconsidering the death penalty.

    P.S. When one allows the cobwebs of justice to elevate the presence and significance of the skeletons far too many silk strands holding up the rose garden are damaged.

  8. Apropos of nothing, but I noticed in your prior post about the quality of your sleep, and in this one, you used Google Scholar links to the cases. Is Google Scholar a resource you use often, and if someone were litigating in your courtroom, would you prefer any hyperlinks in briefs go to a Google Scholar version of the case?

  9. Peter H.,

    Very good question. I cite to Google Scholar on this blog because it is free, and readers can therefore access the cited cases more easily. In my day job, I prefer hyperlinks to Westlaw.

    All the best.


  10. Pingback: The other side of my “conflicted” feelings about the death penalty « Hercules and the umpire.

  11. I find myself conflicted when promoting the health of inmates like Ryan. I have a copy of a short piece by Piet Hein, a Danish poet, in my desk drawer:

    An Ethical Grook

    I see
    and I hear
    and I speak no evil;
    I carry
    no malice
    within my breast;
    yet quite without
    a man to the Devil
    one may be
    to hope for the best.

    — Piet Hein

  12. I know some brilliant and committed New Englanders who are against the death penalty but aren’t particularly concerned that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is on the receiving end of it.

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