Court turns down former Illinois governor

May 27, 2008 8:36:43 PM PDT
The governor who made history by commuting the sentences of those on death row in Illinois now hopes that his sentence will be commuted by the president of the United States.For Illinois governor Geroge Ryan was convicted two years ago on political corruption charges. Ryan is now serving his six-and-a-half-year sentence at a federal prison in Indiana.

He does have one final option. One of Ryan's attorneys says he may appeal to the president of the United States for executive clemency. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to hear the Ryan case. That decision does not come as a surprise. The U.S. Attorney's Office says it's gratified and that the citizens' right to the honest services of government officials has been vindicated.

Ryan's lawyers are disappointed. Their next move is to turn to the president of the United States. "We recognize that the judicial process has come to an end for Governor Ryan," said for governor Jim Thompson, Ryan lawyer.

Former Governor Ryan is currently serving his sentence at the federal prison camp in Terre Haute, Indiana. His scheduled release date is July of 2013 unless he were to win a commutation from the president.

"I think it'd be appropriate to ask the president to commute his sentence to time served," said Thompson.

Ryan's lawyers will soon be filing a formal request for executive clemency for Ryan. They will argue that he has suffered enough, that he's gone from governor to prisoner, has lost his reputation, his pension, and that at 74 years of age with health concerns, no further purpose is served by keeping him locked up.

"One of the things as a prosecutor you have (is) this deterrence. You hope that what you do in one prosecution will somehow deter future conduct. And I think to have a commutation on top of what we have today, I think would be a travesty,. I do," said Patrick Collins, former assistant U.S. Attorney.

"He got caught and found guilty of every count and deserves to serve the time," said Joe Power, the attorney who represented the Willis family, whose six children were killed in a fiery crash caused by a truck driver who got a fraudulent driver's license under Ryan's administration.

Power never thought Ryan's attorneys had much chance of the Supreme Court granting a new trial. And he believes President Bush should deny clemency.

During the Ryan trial, prosecutors argued consistently and vigorously that there are tangible consequences to public corruption. They say to lesson punishment now sends the wrong message.

"I think for the executive branch to intervene and subvert or undermine that process would be unwarranted and would send the wrong message," said Zach Fardon, former assistant U.S. Attorney.

Ryan's lawyers will file their request for clemency with the Department of Justice. It then goes to the White House where George Bush, before he leaves office, can accept it or reject it.

The president did commute the sentence of Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.

Libby was sentenced to five years for lying to a federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame's status as a CIA officer.

Presidents traditionally issue a few pardons and commute some sentences just before they leave office and a successor is inaugurated.

And were Bush to decide to allow Ryan to leave prison for time served, some political observers say the consideration would be based on Ryan's age and health.

Both prosecutors and defense lawyers believe Ryan has a better chance of winning his request for clemency than he did with Tuesday's failed bid to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The justices made no comment as they refused to take up the claim that Ryan had not received a fair trial due to chaotic jury deliberations.

Chicago's top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, said he was happy the high court decided to let Ryan's conviction stand.

"Mr. Ryan has exhausted every legal avenue and argument afforded him but the verdict stands that he was guilty of corrupting the highest office in the state," Fitzgerald said in a statement.

Ryan was convicted in April 2006 of steering contracts to lobbyists and other friends, tax fraud, misuse of tax dollars and state workers and squelching an investigation of links between bribery and fundraising.

His 37-page petition to the Supreme Court claimed his chances of getting a fair trial were wrecked when U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer replaced two jurors with alternates after deliberations were well under way. The two jurors were removed for failing to mention of their police records on a pre-trial questionnaire.

Ryan's lawyers also argued the deliberations were tainted after one of the jurors, a substitute kindergarten teacher, brought legal materials she found on the Internet into the jury room in defiance of instructions.

Most of the corrupt activity charged in Ryan's indictment took place when the husky voiced, snowy haired onetime Kankakee pharmacist was Illinois secretary of state before his 1998 election as governor. Also convicted at the trial was businessman Larry Warner, who received leases for himself and clients from the secretary of state's office when Ryan was in charge.

Ryan and Warner filed a joint appeal with the Supreme Court and the high court in refusing to hear Ryan's refused to hear Warner's as well.

Under federal law Ryan can get 15 percent of the sentence off for good behavior.

A former federal prosecutor who represented the government at the Ryan trial said commuting the former governor's sentence would be a mistake.

"When defendants are charged and they are convicted by overwhelming evidence and it is in the context where the public trust was manipulated and violated then I think the conviction should stand," said Fardon, who is now in private practice.

There is no way to tell what Bush might decide about commuting Ryan's sentence but few if any doubt that he will be asked to do so.

Thompson still has influence in Republican politics and is certain to mobilize his network of lawyers, lobbyists and lawmakers in the cause.

One expert, Loyola University political scientist Alan R. Gitelson, said estimated the chances of a commutation at 50-50.

"If (Bush) commutes it, it will be on the grounds of (Ryan's) age and his health," Gitelson said. "Unlike Libby, it will be a humanitarian act."

The high court did not reject Ryan's claim that his trial was unfair. It refused to grant certiorari to the former governor's appeal. That is, it refused even to consider it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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