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Durbin seeks commutation for George Ryan

December 1, 2008 5:16:49 PM PST
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin is urging President Bush to commute the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan.Ryan is serving a six-and-a-half year prison term for his conviction on racketeering, fraud and other charges.

In the week since he first talked about asking for a commutation of Ryan's prison sentence, Durbin says the response has been overwhelmingly negative - from calls to his office, to the editorial pages.

Durbin on Monday said he wanted to set the record straight, that he is not asking for a pardon but a commutation. Ryan could come home, but his conviction, his humiliation, the loss of his pension would stand. His principal motivation, Durbin says, is compassion for Ryan's wife, Lura Lynn.

"I think George Ryan has had more than a slap on the wrist. I think whatever he does for the rest of his life, he will carry this cloud of this conviction," Durbin said.

Sen. Durbin is sending a letter to President Bush asking that Ryan's sentence be commuted to time served.

"Justice is a sword that should be tempered with compassion," Durbin writes. "Further imprisonment will not, in my opinion, serve the ends of justice."

George Ryan has served just over a year of his six-and-a-half year sentence. Throughout his trial and on the eve of his departure for prison, Ryan maintained his innocence and never expressed any remorse.

"I do so with a clear conscience. I have said since the beginning of this 10-year or deal that I'm innocent," Ryan said on November 6, 2007.

But in his request for commutation of his sentence filed several weeks ago, George Ryan wrote the Justice Department saying, "I accept the verdict against me, and I apologize to the people of Illinois for my conduct."

He spoke of his "deep shame" and said, "My heart is heavy knowing that I have hurt the public, my family, and my friends in failing to keep their trust. I failed them and for that I have profound remorse."

"I think that was long overdue. I sincerely hope that if President Bush decides to commute his sentence, that one of the first things George Ryan will do will be to speak those words to the people of this state. They're entitled to it and are waiting for it," Durbin said.

Prosecutors and jurors in the Ryan trial question the timing and sincerity of Ryan's plea. Durbin acknowledges reaction to his stand has been overwhelmingly negative, challenged by many who charge that a double standard is at work.

"For those who say what is Durbin's political motive here, all I have to offer is a human motive," Durbin said.

The state's Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna on Monday afternoon issued a statement saying his heart goes out to Mrs. Ryan and her family, but that a commutation of Ryan's sentence would, "send the wrong message to not only those who betray the public trust, but also to the honest, hard-working men and women of Illinois who expect public corruption will be punished to the fullest extent of the law."

"I happen to have been raised in the tradition of redemption. I believe people can learn from their mistakes," Durbin said.

"It doesn't disrespect the jurors; they did their work. It doesn't disrespect the prosecutors; they won a conviction. The only question here is, should he be sitting in prison until he's 80 years old?" said Jim Thompson, former Governor Ryan's friend.

"Bottom line, George Ryan is a sociopath. He doesn't understand right from wrong. He's a person, so long as you're with him, you're fine. If you're against him, don't get in his way," said Joe Power, Willis family attorney.

Power represents the Willis family. The highway deaths of six of their children led to the case against Ryan. Releasing Ryan after he's served only a sixth of his sentence, Power says, would be a miscarriage of justice.


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