Survivalist cult leader Michael Ryan was sentenced Thursday to...

FALLS CITY, Neb. -- Survivalist cult leader Michael Ryan was sentenced Thursday to die in Nebraska's electric chair for the April 1985 torture slaying of a cult member on the group's farm.

Richardson County District Judge Judge Robert Finn, who imposed the sentence, said Ryan's actions were so depraved he had to be mentally disturbed, but nonetheless was sane and knew his actions were wrong.


Finn said he agreed with the jury that found Michael Ryan sane, but said the 'preponderance of the evidence convinces me that the obsessive and compulsive traits of the defendant in carrying out the torture death of James Thimm rise to the status of an extreme mental or emotional disturbance.'

But he also said Ryan 'understood and appreciated the wrongfulness of his conduct,' understood the consequences and wanted to avoid capture.

The bearded Ryan, 38, sat handcuffed and without visible emotion during the hearing.

The sentence automatically will be reviewed by the Nebraska Supreme Court.

Ryan, leader of about 20 people who lived on a Rulo farm from summer 1984 to summer 1985, claimed Yahweh, or God, ordered the torture slaying of Thimm, 26. A jury in Omaha convicted Ryan of first-degree murder April 10.


Ryan's son, Dennis, 17, was convicted of second-degree murder in Thimm's death, as was former cult member Timothy Haverkamp.

The elder Ryan also faces life in prison after pleading no contest this summer to second-degree murder in the March 1985 death of Luke Stice, 5, a child who lived on the cult's farm.

Finn said Thimm was tortured for several days while chained in a hog shed. The judge said Thimm was sodomized several times, whipped and beaten, had his fingertips shot off and had an arm and his legs broken before Ryan crushed his rib cage, killing him.

Defense attorney Richard Goos of Lincoln said he planned to file a motion for a new trial. Finn scheduled a hearing Nov. 6.

Doug Merz, Richardson County attorney, and Randall Rehmeier of Nebraska City, special deputy county attorney, said they were satisfied with the sentence.

'If (the death penalty in) this case doesn't apply, I don't know which one does,' Rehmeier said.

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