Former governor fights to stay out of prison

Thursday, August 23, 2007
George Ryan

CHICAGO -- Former governor George Ryan has been assigned to serve his racketeering and fraud sentence at a Minnesota prison but wants that changed so his family would find visiting easier, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Former governor James R. Thompson told U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, who presided over Ryan's trial, that Ryan is hoping to be reassigned to the federal prison at Oxford, Wis., if his appeal fails.

"If there is something in the rules that prohibits him from going to Oxford, they'll have to make the trip to Duluth," Thompson told reporters.

The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals turned down Ryan's appeal Tuesday in a 2-1 split decision. But Ryan is asking the entire 11-member court to give him a rehearing and is being allowed to remain free for now.

Pallmeyer also said if Ryan doesn't get his so-called "en banc" hearing before the full appeals court he must report to prison within four business days of the decision being issued.

"It seems to me that Governor Ryan should be making whatever arrangements," Pallmeyer told Thompson at a brief hearing. "I think he's on notice given the decision of the court of appeals."

The appeals court issued its decision after what his attorneys have repeatedly said were severely flawed jury deliberations.

"The fact that the trial may not have been picture perfect is, in itself, nothing unusual," said the opinion written by Judge Diane Wood and joined by Judge Daniel Manion.

"The evidence supporting the jury's verdict was overwhelming," the majority opinion said.

Dissenting Judge Michael Kanne said calling the trial less than perfect was "a whopping understatement" and added that the verdict should be set aside because of jury problems and "a flood of errors."

After that decision, federal prosecutors asked Pallmeyer to enforce an order to make Ryan report to prison within 72 hours to start his 6 1/2-year sentence. But late in the day, the appeals court stayed the deadline and said Ryan could remain free on bond while Thompson and his attorneys try for the new hearing.

Ryan, a former Kankakee druggist who became the state's most powerful Republican, was accused of steering state contracts to political friends in exchange for benefits ranging from free vacations in Jamaica to a free golf bag.

Ryan also was accused of killing an investigation of bribes paid in exchange for driver's licenses and using state money and employees to wage his political campaigns.

The eight-year investigation began after six children in one family were killed in a highway disaster involving a truck driver whose Illinois license allegedly had been purchased with a bribe.

Ryan was secretary of state at the time. Prosecutors later traced thousands of dollars in bribes to the Citizens for Ryan campaign fund.

The eight-year investigation known as Operation Safe Road resulted not only in the conviction of Ryan and Warner but dozens of other state officials and lobbyists.

Jury deliberations at the close of Ryan's trial were tumultuous and members of the panel bickered sharply in the jury room.

Some jurors signed a letter to Pallmeyer, complaining that one panel member, Evelyn Ezell, refused to negotiate. After eight days of deliberations it was found that Ezell and another member of the jury, Robert Pavlick, had omitted from their questionnaires encounters with police.

The defense claimed Pallmeyer's dismissal of the jurors after eight days was unprecedented.

Pallmeyer herself acknowledged in an unsealed transcript of an in-chambers talk with attorneys that she "well might" be reversed on appeal.

After the verdict, it was discovered that one of the jurors, a substitute kindergarten teacher, had brought into the jury room a legal document she found on the Internet saying it was wrong to refuse to deliberate. The document evidently had been used to pressure Ezell.

Jurors had been instructed not to bring anything into the jury room other than materials supplied by the court.

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