New details of Ryan's visit to dying wife emerge

January 7, 2011 8:28:38 PM PST
Ex-governor George Ryan is back in an Indiana prison after secretly visiting his dying wife in Kankakee, Ill., earlier in the week.

The former governor visited Lura Lynn Ryan in a Kankakee hospital Wednesday night and later returned to his Terre Haute prison -- all while the public was speculating about whether or not he would be allowed to visit.

In a court filing from U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald's office, prosecutors say George Ryan visited his wife for two hours from 7:30 p.m. to 9:40 p.m. Ryan was escorted to the hospital for what officials call a bedside visit granted by the prison's warden.

There was no announcement from Ryan's family and no announcement from prison officials.

When Lura Lynn Ryan went into septic shock early Wednesday, former Governor Jim Thompson, George Ryan's attorney, called the federal prison in Terre Haute and asked if Ryan could be granted an emergency furlough. Mrs. Ryan's doctor called prison officials and told them of the situation. Thompson says he heard no more until Wednesday evening when he got a call from Ryan's son at the hospital.

"He said, 'Dad is here,' which shocked me. And I said, 'How?' And he said, 'The Bureau of Prisons drove him up from Terre Haute. They have given him a two-hour visit with Mom, and then he's going back,'" Thompson told ABC7 Chicago.

With prison escorts, Ryan entered the hospital outside the view of cameras. According to Thompson, the former governor was not allowed to talk to other family members who were told to leave Mrs. Ryan's room for the entirety of the bedside visit. When two hours was up, George Ryan was driven back to Terre Haute.

"He said he was able to talk to her, although she was sort of in and out. But he thought the visit had been therapeutic for her," Thompson said.

As recently as Thursday, the defense team had said there would been no visit. Now they say they were obeying prisons' policy of 'no comment, no press.'

The Ryan legal team had asked that the former governor be temporarily released by court order or prison furlough. Ryan's lawyers had proposed that, were the former governor to be temporarily released -- either by the warden or a court decision -- he could spend daytime hours with his wife and could be jailed at night in the Kankakee County Jail.

Prosecutors released their response Friday to the Ryan team's emergency motion to grant bail. In that response, prosecutors argued against granting bail, indicating that since Ryan had already been released and had visited with the consent of the warden, the emergency motion for release was a moot point.

"The government does not dispute that Mrs. Ryan's medical condition is grave. In fact, recognizing the seriousness of her condition, on the evening of Wednesday, January 5, 2011, the Bureau of Prisons granted Ryan an escorted trip to the hospital where is wife is being treated. There, according to officials at the Bureau of Prisons, Ryan visited with his wife for approximately two hours between approximately 7:30 and 9:40 p.m. Thus, through normal prison procedures, Ryan has been able to visit with his wife," the court filing read.

Prosecutors say they still disagree with the overall appeal of the case, which was recently denied before Christmas.

Former Governor Ryan has been in prison for political corruption and has served three years of a six-and-a-half-year sentence. Thompson said that the conviction was unfair based on recent changes in the law.

The former governor's attorney reacted strongly to the prosecutors' filing.

"To say that a two-hour visit to a dying wife is the equivalent of bail is wrong as a matter of law. It just defies common sense, and that's a shabby argument," Thompson said.

Thompson also added that the Ryan family was grateful the two-hour visit and considered it "a humanitarian move on the part of the Bureau of Prisons." But he argued that Ryan should still be released on bond pending appeal of what they say is a flawed conviction. And he said the government's disclosure that there was a visit was meant to weaken their case.

"I think it was a calculated effort on their part to use it as a weapon against us in the court of appeals," said Thompson.

After hearing that, prosecutors fired back in a court filing, saying the Bureau of Prison, "BOP had no objection," to revealing the visit. And the government is simply stating all of the "relevelant facts."

Scott Fawell, Ryan's friend and former chief of staff, also did federal prison time and was briefly released, only long enough to attend his father's funeral.

"It's almost like saying goodbye for the first time. It's tough," said Fawell.

While prisons officials won't discuss individual cases, former inmates, like Fawell, say that emergency furloughs aren't often granted more than once.

"Generally, there's always a policy of one or the other, go to the bedside of someone who's terminally ill or go to the funeral," said Fawell. "With my case, my father died quickly and somewhat unexpectedly so I didn't have the option of going to his bedside. My option was going to his service or nothing."

Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins, who prosecuted Ryan's case and has since left the U.S. Attorney's office, says the appellate court should consider the legal facts in the case - not family issues, as difficult as they may be.

"I think it is a good thing that the Bureau of Prison allowed Mr. Ryan out. But I don't think that should drive, my personal opinion, that should not drive this ultimate decision on what the 7th Circuit will make. I don't think it will. I think they'll decide it on the law," said Collins.

The U.S. Attorney's Office says it checked with prisons and they had no objection to disclosing a visit that had already happened.

The 7th Circuit has not ruled yet on the emergency motion for bail.

There is no timeline legally for the court to respond. But Collins says he believes the court will respond in a matter of days.

Lura Lynn Ryan's condition continues to be described as grave. She is suffering from a bacterial infection in her bloodstream caused by her cancer treatments. ABC7 Chicago is told family members have asked that any updates on the former Illinois first lady's condition be kept confidential.