Ryan's e-mailed apology nearly a quarter century later and the gubernatorial candidate's stunning reversal on the death penalty remains a hot topic in Illinois political circles.
On Friday, a current and former governor weighed-in.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn praised Ryan, a former DuPage County state's attorney and Illinois attorney general, who apologized Thursday for the wrongful prosecutions of Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez.
"When you make a mistake I think the proper thing to do is sincerely apologize," Quinn said. "Clearly the prosecution of those two men who were innocent was very wrong."
The now 63-year-old Ryan--a 2010 Republican primary candidate for governor--issued his apology in an e-mailed statement as he campaigned downstate. A quarter century ago, DuPage prosecutors were relentless in their cases against the innocent Cruz and Hernandez for the kidnapping, rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine. As state's attorney then, Ryan dismissed a confession by the real killer, Brian Dugan, who was sentenced to death for the murder two days ago.
"I thought his apology was very good of him," said Jim Edgar, who was governor during Ryan's first term as attorney general. "I don't think anybody should think less of Jim Ryan. I think because of that, I think, as he said, the information he had he mad ethat decision. Unfortunately, he had the wrong, they didn't know the entire story."
Ryan said Thursday he would not lift the state's moratorium on the death penalty, even though the legislature has passed new restrictions on the use of capital punishment after a commission reviewed the state laws.
All of Ryan's Republican primary opponents would re-open the lethal injection chamber, and even Edgar saw no reason, at this point, not to lift the moratorium on capital punishment.
"I'm not sure why you don't lift it unless there's something, another flaw in it that I'm not aware of that this commission was not aware of," Edgar said.
Strategists for the other six Republican candidates for governor say they do not believe the death penalty and what to do with it will become an issue in the primary campaign. They say the state has more pressing financial issues.
During the 1980s and '90s, Ryan was the political face for the local version of the "law and order" movement. He was a no-nonsense suburban state's attorney and later Illinois attorney general who, to this day, still wants to be governor.
But most of his 25 years in elective politics have been haunted by a matter he wants to at long last put behind him - the case of Rolando Cruz. It has clouded Ryan's career for nearly a quarter of a century.
"In DuPage County, his subordinates were allowed to run free and wild and do what they wanted to do to prosecute and attempt to execute," Cruz said Thursday.
Ryan won election and re-election as Illinois attorney general in 1994 and '98. He lost a race for governor in 2002 and is running again for governor this year. He held off comment on the Cruz/Hernandez case until Dugan was finally sentenced Wednesday.
"In the Cruz-Hernandez cases, the system and I failed to achieve a just outcome. And for that I am sorry," Ryan said in a statement.
"If he was not running for governor, no, he would not have offered an apology. The proof is in the pudding, as they say," Cruz said.
Ryan lost the governor's race to Rod Blagojevich in 2002, and this year he is one of seven Republicans vying for the party's 2010 nomination.
"I will not lift the moratorium on capital punishment until we have created a more limited and accurate system of capital punishment," Ryan said in his statement.
His primary opponents say they will do the opposite.
"The death penalty is the law of the land, and no governor stands above any law, let alone the death penalty," said State Sen. Bill Brady, (R) candidate for governor.
Another candidate, State Senator Kirk Dillard, said he also would lift the moratorium. A spokesman for another candidate, Andy McKenna, said he would review the situation before deciding to lift it.