The sister of a man brutally murdered nearly 30 years ago campaigns against executing his killer.
A mixture of Mennonite faith and practicality leads Miriam Kelle of Beatrice to come out against the execution of Michael Ryan. Kelle says her faith compels her to speak out against the death penalty. Kelle adds, though, that each time the legislature debates capital punishment, the news media recounts how Michael Ryan tortured and murdered her brother, James Thimm, at his religious compound near Rulo in far southeastern Nebraska in 1984.
Kelle uses a coping mechanism whenever debate at the Capitol turns to capital punishment.
“We just try not to read the paper,” Kelle tells reporters at the Capitol. “You know, I try really hard not. My co-workers are reading it. You just try to go on and do your job that you’re supposed to do.”
That approach didn’t work this year. Kelle actually gathered numerous newspaper accounts of the murder for Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha who sponsors LB 276, a bill that would eliminate the death penalty. Under the legislation, life in prison without the possibility of parole would be the ultimate penalty in Nebraska. The legislature debated the bill for two days last week before Council moved to indefinitely postpone it. The bill could return for debate later this session.
Kelle says it’s difficult to re-read accounts of her brother’s death.
“And the really hard thing is when you read something that you kind of forgot about and it comes crashing back, that’s the hard part,” Kelle says with emotion in her voice.
An execution date of March 6th has been set for Ryan in the 1984 murder. A delay will begin the news cycle over. Kelle contends if Ryan had been sentenced to life he would have been forgotten long ago and she wouldn’t have to relive her brother’s brutal death.