Thompson: Ryan still hopes for clemency

Adriana Colindres

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan still hangs onto the hope that he'll win presidential clemency and an early release from prison, said his lawyer, former Illinois Gov. James Thompson.

A year ago, Ryan wrote a letter to President George W. Bush, a fellow Republican, asking for commutation of his 78-month prison sentence on charges of fraud, racketeering and other crimes. He has been behind bars since fall 2007.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois also wrote to Bush, saying the aging Ryan should be permitted to "return to his wife and family for their remaining years."

Durbin sent his letter about a week before former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's Dec. 9, 2008, arrest on federal corruption charges.

"That, I think, pretty much doomed our chances before President Bush, and I understand that," Thompson said Wednesday after the Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving whether Ryan can keep part of his pension. Bush didn't act on Ryan's petition for clemency before leaving the White House.

Thompson said he plans to renew the petition, which remains before President Barack Obama. Obama's tenure in the Illinois Senate overlapped with Ryan's single term as governor from 1999 to 2003.

Obama has "a lot on his plate" right now, Thompson said.

"But Christmas is coming, and that's traditionally a time when presidents act (on clemency requests)," he said. "So our hope would be that President Obama – who knows George Ryan, served with him – would be, like his hero, Abraham Lincoln, merciful in this respect."

Ryan, 75, is imprisoned in a federal facility in Terre Haute, Ind. The Federal Bureau of Prisons Web site lists his release date as July 4, 2013. 

Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292