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Dennis Ryan Testifies At His Murder Trial

March 26, 1986

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ A 16-year-old boy testified Wednesday at his murder trial that he participated in the torture of a fellow survivalist cult member because he believed it was God’s will.

Dennis Ryan was the first defendant to testify at the trial. He and his father, Michael, are charged with first-degree murder in the death of 26-year- old James Thimm.

Thimm’s body was found last August at the cult’s farm in southeast Nebraska, where the Ryans and about 20 other people lived in 1984-85.

Asked by defense attorney Rodney Rehm why he participated in the ″things that were done to James Thimm,″ Dennis Ryan replied, ″Because that’s what Yahweh wanted.″

″How do you know that?″ asked Rehm.

″Because that’s what he told Dad and Lisa,″ said Ryan, referring to Michael Ryan and cult member Lisa Haverkamp.

Authorities and former cult members have testified that Thimm was whipped and partially skinned before he died.

Michael Ryan, 37, also faces trial in May on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of 5-year-old Luke Stice, whose body also was found in August on the farm.

Former cult members have testified that Michael Ryan believed he could speak with Yahweh, the God worshiped by the cult.

Attorneys for both defendants are using an insanity defense. The trial is in its third week of testimony in Douglas County District Court.

Dennis Ryan wore a light blue three-piece suit with an open shirt. He spoke in a deep, clear voice and smiled several times.

Ryan, who grew up in several Kansas towns, described a pleasant childhood during which he hunted, fished and played baseball. He said his life changed after his parents started following the teachings of James Wickstrom, a preacher who says Anglo-Saxons are the chosen people.

Ryan said he had to change his diet and give up extra-curricular activities at school because of his parents’ new beliefs. He said he could no longer eat pork and some types of fish.

″Kids harassed me about it,″ he said. ″They thought I was crazy.″

Former cult members have testified that Michael Ryan married several women in unofficial ceremonies while he was legally married to Dennis’ mother, Ruth.

Asked how he felt about his father having several wives, the teen-ager said, ″I didn’t see anything wrong with it. If you go back to biblical days, people had more than one wife.″

If convicted, Michael Ryan could be executed. His son, because of his age, faces a maximum of life in prison.

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