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Cult leader Michael Ryan dies on Nebraska death row

Cult leader Michael Ryan dies on Nebraska death row

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Nebraska death row inmate Michael Ryan, who led a survivalist religious cult and was responsible for the deaths of two people, has died in custody.

Spokeswoman Jessica Houseman for the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in southeast Nebraska confirmed Monday that 66-year-old Michael Ryan died in prison. Houseman said he died around 5:45 p.m. Sunday. She said an autopsy would be performed to determine the cause of death.

Ryan, who had lived on death row for 30 years, was suffering from terminal brain cancer, Sen. Ernie Chambers said in March during a public hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. Ryan's page on the state's inmate locator says he died Sunday. 

Ryan led about two dozen members of a survivalist religious cult on a farm near Rulo in the mid 1980s. He was sentenced to die for ordering the 1985 torture and killing of James Thimm, 25, one of his followers.

He also pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in the killing of 5-year-old Luke Stice, the son of another cult member.

Ryan came within two weeks of being executed in 2012, when the State Supreme Court stayed the execution so he could appeal the way Nebraska officials obtained one of three drugs necessary for a lethal injection.

The state has been unable to perform an execution since December 2013, when its supply of sodium thiopental expired. Earlier this month, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced that the state will soon obtain a new supply of drugs to carry out executions.

With Ryan's death, 10 men now sit on Nebraska’s death row. Officials have said that because their court appeals have been exhausted, execution dates could be requested for John Lotter and Carey Dean Moore.

Stay with for more on this developing story. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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