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Cult Pair Laughed About Torture Death, Witness Testifies

March 11, 1986 GMT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ A survivalist cult leader and his teen-age son laughed and joked about the torture death of a cult member on a farm, a former member testified Tuesday at the pair’s murder trial.

Cheryl Gibson, who left her husband to live on the farm with her five children, said cult leader Michael Ryan and his son, Dennis, appeared ″happy and pleased″ following the death of James Thimm last April.

Mrs. Gibson, 30, told a Douglas County District Court jury that Michael Ryan said his son participated in Thimm’s torture.

″(He) talked about how willing Dennis was to participate, how eager he was to learn how to torture and abuse a person,″ she said.

Mrs. Gibson testified that Michael Ryan was upset that cult members John David Andreas and James Haverkamp were hesitant to torture Thimm and said he would kill the two if they didn’t ″straighten out.″

Michael Ryan, 37, and Dennis, 16, are charged with first-degree murder in Thimm’s death. The bodies of Thimm, 26, and 5-year-old Luke Stice were found in unmarked graves last August on the farm near Rulo in southeastern Nebraska.

In opening statements Monday, a prosecutor said the Ryans skinned Thimm alive, then broke an arm, a leg and jumped up and down on his chest until he was dead.

Michael Ryan also is charged with first-degree murder in Luke’s death. He faces a later trial on that charge.

Mrs. Gibson, who has reunited with her husband, said she saw Michael Ryan fasten a belt around Luke’s neck and lift him off the ground by the belt. She said Ryan also told her and other women at the farm that he gave the child ice-cold baths and showers.

She had testified earlier that Ryan thought Thimm, Luke and Luke’s father, Rick Stice, needed to be punished because God was angry at them.

Under questioning from Richard Goos, one of Michael Ryan’s attorneys, Mrs. Gibson admitted she lied last year to law enforcement officials about life on the farm and her relationship with her husband, Lester.

Mrs. Gibson said she lied or exaggerated in statements to Richardson County authorities and the FBI because Michael Ryan had convinced her that law enforcement officials were ″Satan’s people.″

In the statements, Mrs. Gibson said her husband had abused her and her children and that no one at the farm was tortured or abused.

Mrs. Gibson said Michael Ryan ″went over each paragraph with me and told me what to write. A lot of these paragraphs are Michael Ryan’s exact words.″

If convicted, Michael Ryan could be executed. The maximum sentence his son could receive is life in prison.