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Thompson to try again to spring George Ryan from prison
By Rob Olmstead | Daily Herald Staff

Former Gov. George Ryan


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Published: 5/19/2009 12:10 AM | Updated: 5/19/2009 3:16 PM

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If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

That's apparently the motto former Gov. James R. Thompson is following when it comes to trying to get his friend former Gov. George Ryan out of prison.

Thompson, speaking to reporters outside a lunch at the City Club, said Monday he plans to give President Barack Obama some time to deal with the huge crises he's facing, then file a petition to commute Ryan's sentence.

"At this moment, he has other things on his plate," said Thompson.

Ryan was convicted of racketeering and mail fraud in 2006 and sentenced to 61/2 years in prison. A jury decided the former governor had traded government favors and contracts for personal favors and benefits to himself and his family.

Thompson and other lawyers at the Winston & Strawn law firm had submitted a petition for commutation in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration.

"Of course, the minute we filed one, the Blagojevich indictment hit and there went that opportunity," said Thompson.

"Frankly, I think, there's nothing gained by requiring him to stay in jail," said Thompson. "He's been there for almost two years now. He's been punished. He's lost his office. He's lost all his means of support. He's not a completely well man. ... A merciful president would let him come home."

"President Obama knows Governor Ryan, worked with Governor Ryan when the president was in the General Assembly, and my hope is that this fall if we file a petition to ask the president to commute the sentence to time served, that we could get a favorable answer," said Thompson.

Joel Levin, a former U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Ryan, saw things differently, though.

"A very conscientious federal judge, who heard all of the evidence, imposed a fair sentence," wrote Levin in an e-mail interview. "It is important in our system of justice that all are treated equally under the law. Commutation of Mr. Ryan's sentence would undermine that important principle."

Spokesmen for Obama could not immediately be reached for comment.