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“When Michael Ryan was sentenced to death, we were sentenced too... For 25 years it has been all about Michael Ryan. He is all my family and I ever hear about. Jim is never mentioned."
-Miriam Thimm Kelle - sister of Nebraska murder victim

Nebraska murder victims’ families have said our death penalty causes them further harm


Capital punishment prolongs pain for victims’ families, dragging them through an agonizing and lengthy process that holds out the promise of an execution at the beginning but often results in a different sentence. Nebraska’s last execution was nearly 20 years ago.  A life without parole sentence begins as soon as victims’ families leave the courtroom and is served anonymously, outside the spotlight of the media.

In 2015, Over 2 dozen murder victims’ families went to the Capitol to implore our state Senators to end the death penalty. They also submitted this joint letter to the media.

The death penalty harms family members, even if they support the death penalty

“The existence of the death penalty…perpetuates a cruel illusion that they [murder victim families] may have vengeance, when in reality the system requires years of appeals, repeatedly putting the victims through the nightmare of their loved one’s death…My firsthand experience working with victims is that they simply want to be done with their tragedy.” Brent M. Bloom, former chief deputy Douglas County Prosecutor.[1]


“When Michael Ryan was sentenced to death, we were sentenced too… For 25 years it has been all about Michael Ryan. He is all my family and I ever hear about. Jim is never mentioned. Only the continued talk about what Ryan deserves and not what my family and me needs. Every appeal, on and on. Reading the horrible details again in the news, year after year. Even after the execution, if it ever comes, it will be another day about Michael Ryan, and nothing about Jim.” Miriam Thimm Kelle, whose brother James was murdered by death row inmate Michael Ryan.[2]


The death penalty does not allow families to heal after a loved one is murdered


“You hear the term ‘closure’ as far as the satisfaction or the end of the case, but I don’t know that people necessarily get closure from the criminal justice system because the process continues for quite some time.” Don Kleine, Chief Prosecutor, Douglas County, Nebraska.[3]


In Nebraska, it takes an average of almost 16 years from the time of an original death sentence to an execution. Nebraska victims’ families agonize, some for as many as 30 years of appeals and re-trials, waiting for a final outcome in their loved ones cases.[4]


Crime survivors and their families are not getting what they need in the aftermath of unspeakable violence


Our justice system assumes that the primary needs of crime survivors involve punishment of the person who harmed them. Yet the vast majority of crime survivors’ needs have nothing to do with what happens to the person who harmed them.


“A new national report ranks Nebraska as the “stingiest” state in the nation when it comes to helping crime victims pay expenses. The report, released Monday, said the state paid an average of $26 each to help crime victims and survivors with funeral costs, medical costs, counseling and lost wages in 2012. That’s less than half the amount paid by the next-lowest state, Louisiana, and many times less than the $763 average paid by neighboring Iowa.”

-Omaha World-Herald, June 17, 2014

It’s time to demand more from our criminal justice system.  Life without the possibility of parole ensures Nebraska victims’ families don’t become ensnared in a broken death penalty system.


  1. Testimony to the Nebraska Judiciary Committee, January 29, 2009

  2. Testimony before the Nebraska Judiciary Committee, March, 2013

  3. Testimony before the Nebraska Judiciary Committee, January 29, 2009

  4. Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, Nebraska Capital Cases, 2007.

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