Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ryan: 'I still believe'

August 22, 2007
BY MICHAEL SNEED Sun-Times Columnist

'We are staying strong," former Gov. George Ryan told Sneed shortly after learning his conviction on corruption charges had been upheld by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit.

"We have a large and strong family, and we all understand what is happening," Ryan added. "Faith is a big part of our life and it continues to be now. And I also have a lot of faith in my counsel."

Ryan and his extended family stayed behind closed doors Tuesday at his home in Kankakee, which was surrounded by the news media, as they wondered whether the ex-Illinois governor would have to report to federal prison by Friday morning.

"We're fine, Mike. Really we are," said Ryan's wife, Lura Lynn, who met Ryan in high school and married him in 1956.

Later in the day, the 73-year-old Ryan was informed that the appellate court had allowed him to stay out of prison pending further appeal.

"I just got the good news," he told Sneed. "I always felt and hoped that there would be justice -- and I felt it today with the judges' ruling. I still believe in the system. ...

"Yes, I do feel some relief, and I guess we'll know what happens during the next two weeks."

Autographing books about mansion

For the most part, this summer has been a quiet and busy one for the Ryans, who have been staying active while awaiting word on Ryan's appeal since his conviction on fraud and corruption charges in April 2006.

This summer, Ryan weeded the garden at his modest home, planted hostas in the yard, took small Illinois road trips with Lura Lynn, hung out with his children and his grandkids and kept a close ear on his squeaky porch swing.

He and Lura Lynn also traveled to the Chicago Book Fair and hit the Kankakee Library to autograph books on the Springfield executive mansion, which were co-written by Lura Lynn to raise funds for the mansion's upkeep.

The books, 10,000 in all, vanished after Gov. Blagojevich was elected and were later resurrected by Lura Lynn from an Ohio warehouse.

Speaking against capital punishment

But it is Ryan's anti-death-penalty crusade that has been his constant focus.
"Gov. Ryan, who placed a moratorium on the death penalty heard around the world, has kept up his crusade to abolish the death penalty and spoken to countless groups which found him profoundly inspirational," said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University.

"He has also been helping a prominent Italian photographer, Nicola Majocchi, put together a documentary, book and photo exhibition on the American death penalty," said Warden.

It highlights the lost years of exonerated prisoners. The project reportedly will debut this fall in New York City.

"Remember," said Warden, "he was the first governor in the nation to declare a moratorium on executions. And before leaving office in 2003, he granted blanket clemency and cleared out Illinois' Death Row."

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