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Ex-gov George Ryan to remain in prison

(FILE) Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan gets into a van in Kankakee, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

December 22, 2010 5:36:28 AM PST
Former Illinois governor George Ryan will remain in prison despite an urgent plea for his release after his wife, Lura Lynn, was diagnosed with terminal cancer last week.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer denied a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct Ryan's sentence. She also denied a motion to set bail.

Judge Pallmeyer issued her ruling at noon on Tuesday on George H. Ryan, Sr. v. United States of America, Case No. 10 C 5512.

Ryan, 76, has served less than half of his six-and-a-half-year sentence for racketeering, tax fraud, conspiracy and lying to the FBI. It now appears he will serve out the remainder of that time. Ryan's attorney-- former governor Jim Thompson-- argued Ryan's sentence should be reduced to time served due to the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision on the 'honest services' law. The Court ruling last summer re-defined the law and limited its application in public corruption cases.

Judge Pallmeyer writes that the Court ruling does not impact the Ryan case because the case "falls into the 'solid core' of honest services fraud."

"Ryan clearly understood 'what conduct was prohibited' and could not have been surprised that he was subject to prosecution. Ryan's efforts to conceal his conduct from public scrutiny themselves demonstrate he knew it was improper," writes Judge Pallmeyer.

Ryan's team argued that had the law been in effect when Ryan was tried in 2006 the charges would have been different- the trial would have been shorter and the government would have had a much more difficult time of proving Ryan took a bribe or kickback.

Prosecutors argued that they proved bribes and kickbacks in the original trial and Ryan should serve his full sentence.

The defense had hoped Ryan would be released on bond while the case is being appealed, but Judge Pallmeyer denied that motion as well.

"We disagree with it strongly. We think that she is wrong on the law and the facts - we intend to pursue legal means. We are going to appeal the decision," Ryan attorney Andrea Lyon said.

"The fact that she wrote a 59-page opinion demonstrates there is a substantial question. And if you have raised a substantial question, the law says you ought to be given bail," said Jim Thompson, Ryan's attorney.

Ryan's lawyers also requested that Ryan be released on bond to spend time with his wife, Lura Lynn, who is gravely ill. Lyon said that doctors have estimated that Lura Lynn Ryan has three to six months left to live.

Pallmeyer touched on that fact, writing that "the sad news that his wife of more than fifty years is suffering from a terminal illness... Any sensitive judge realizes that a lengthy prison term effectively robs the convicted person of what we all value most: months and years with loved ones, some of whom will no longer be there when the sentence has been served. Mr. Ryan, like other convicted persons, undoubtedly wishes it were otherwise. His conduct has exacted a stiff penalty not only for himself but also for his family."

She continues, "This court takes no pleasure in depriving any defendant of his or her liberty. The court has had the painful duty to take such action in circumstances more compelling than these..."

Ryan's attorneys had said the fact Mrs. Ryan was diagnosed last week with an aggressive form of lung cancer warranted his release. Her doctors say Mrs. Ryan has three to six months to live.

Prosecutors said while they are sympathetic to Mrs. Ryan's condition they don't think her husband should get special treatment because he was once the governor of Illinois.

Patrick Collins was the lead prosecutor in the case against the former governor. Now in private practice, Collins said he understands Pallmeyer's decision.

"She sentences so many folks who have difficult financial situations and personal situations that it would be almost unfair to single out Mr. Ryan," said Collins.

Collins said he respects Pallmeyer's difficult decision, but would have supported the judge had she ruled to release Ryan.

Pallmeyer is known in the legal community to be extremely fair.

"It is a personal tragedy. It's horrible that Mrs. Ryan is going to die very soon and apart from the love of her life, but there are hundreds of thousands of prisoners who go through those tragedies every day," said Ron Safer, of Schiff Hardin, a former assistant U.S. attorney. "Judge Pallmeyer is probably the most empathetic judge you could possibly have and I'm sure it eats at her, as it eats at her with every prisoner who has this kind of personal tragedy."

Ryan family "tremendously saddened"

George "Homer" Ryan Jr. spoke with reporters outside the family's Kankakee, Ill., home Tuesday afternoon.

"We are tremendously saddened by Judge Pallmeyer's cold, heartless decision just seven days after my mom has been told she's dying," said Homer Ryan.

"We feel it his heartless and cruel. Is this what American justice is now?" asked Homer Ryan, who said his parents are "devastated."

Many people in the Ryan's hometown of Kankakee support the former governor's quest for early release for the family's sake.

"I think people, you know, are accused of a lot worse things and they get paroled. His situation, being who he is, I think he should be out," said Steve Langevin.

"I think he served enough. He should be home with his family for Christmas," said Johnnie Hartline.

"He's almost at the end of his rope and the last thing anybody wants to do is deny him the right to see his wife before she dies," said Jerome Dunnigan.

"I figure since his wife is sick, his age and he served half his time, I think they should let him out," said Tim Carroll.

"I know the family a little bit and it has been hard, you know. But I do think he should get to go see her and- if nothing else- at least to say goodbye," said Debra Meents.

Mrs. Ryan had her first radiation therapy appointment on Tuesday, according to the family.

The former governor has a standing request with the White House for a grant of clemency. His lawyers could also ask the Bureau of Prisons to grant the former governor a supervised release, which would amount to a brief period of time that he could spend with his wife. A supervised release is rarely granted.


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