UPDATED 12/21/10 6:47 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A judge has ruled that former Gov. George Ryan will stay in prison, denying a request by his attorneys that he be allowed to go home to be with his ailing wife.
CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer denied the request, which also asked that part of Ryan’s sentence be vacated.
The attorneys’ grounds for Ryan’s release were both his wife’s ill health, as well as doubts about his conviction on anti-fraud laws that are considered vague.
Ryan was convicted and sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison in 2006 for giving out state contracts and leases in exchange for political kickbacks. He reported to prison three years ago.
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But his defense attorneys filed a motion requesting his release so he can be with his ailing wife, Lura Lynn Ryan, who is suffering from terminal lung cancer and is believed only to have months left to live.
“All she wants is a chance to be with her husband again in her last days, and we’re very hopeful that the judge will rule in our favor,” Ryan’s attorney, former Gov. James Thompson, said by phone from Paris on the CBS 2 News at 11 a.m. on Tuesday.
In court earlier, prosecutors said they are sympathetic to Lura Lynn Ryan’s plight. But they also argued a family member’s poor health isn’t normally a deciding factor in whether to release an imprisoned defendant and that the ex-governor shouldn’t get special consideration.
In addition to having Ryan released, defense attorneys also wanted parts of the former governor’s conviction thrown out. Recently, Thompson argued the Ryan’s mail fraud conviction should be voided.
Defense lawyers have called the anti-fraud laws the case is based on “too vague.”
They say the “honest services” laws are used as a last resort of prosecutors who lack evidence to prove money is changing hands in corruption cases, a claim with which the U.S. Supreme Court largely agreed in a June decision.
If the mail fraud and racketeering convictions against Ryan had been vacated, that would have left only tax fraud and false statement counts, for which defense attorneys say Ryan has already served more than enough time. Thompson said the sentences for those counts were enhanced by the mail fraud conviction.
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But, in her decision, Judge Pallmeyer ruled the case of George Ryan, a public official, was different from the Skilling case that prosecutors argued was grounds for the request for dismissal. Pallmeyer ruled that Ryan’t conduct fell into the solid core of honest services fraud.
George Ryan’s attorney, Andrea Lyon, said, “We disagree with it strongly. We think she is wrong on the law and the facts.”
Thompson also disagrees.
“He’s in jail in part for conduct that is not a federal crime. Now that’s unconstitutional,” Thompson told Newsradio 780’s Steve Miller.
Thompson says time is very precious to Mrs. Ryan, and that she is frantic she is not going to be able to see her husband before she dies.
CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller earlier said he expected Ryan would be released.
“Even though this jury may have been instructed incorrectly because the law changed, she believes they would have come up with the same verdict,” Miller said. “And because they came up with the same verdict, the verdict should stand and the sentence should stand.”
Ryan’s defense attorneys are expected to issue an appeal with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Former governor Thompson says he hopes Ryan will be released on bail while the court considers the case.
If that doesn’t happen, Thompson says they plan to ask the Federal Bureau of Prisons for a furlough so Ryan can be with his wife of more than 50 years in her final days.
CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov, and Newsradio 780’s Regine Schlesinger and Steve Miller contributed to this report.