UPDATED 01/07/11 4:42 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Former Gov. George Ryan was taken out of prison this week to visit his ailing wife, federal prosecutors revealed in a court filing on Friday.
The visit came and went on Wednesday evening without anyone knowing about it, until prosecutors revealed it in court papers Friday morning in a response to Ryan’s request for bail while he appeals his fraud convictions.
Ryan is serving a 6 1/2 year sentence at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. His wife, Lura Lynn Ryan, is suffering from sepsis resulting from cancer treatments and has anywhere from hours to at most a couple of weeks to live.
As CBS 2′s Suzanne Le Mignot reports, officials at Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee – where Lura Lynn is being treated in intensive care – would not give specifics as to how Ryan entered the hospital, only saying he didn’t use the front door.
A hospital spokesperson described the visit between Ryan and his ailing wife as “very solemn.”
The unannounced visit took everyone in Ryan’s camp by surprise.
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“I’m at home Wednesday night and, out of the blue, I get a call from his son who says in a rather shocked tone, ‘Dad’s here!’ I said, ‘Dad’s where?’” Thompson said Friday. “’He’s at the hospital. They just took him in.”
Thompson said Lura Lynn drifted in and out of sleep during the visit, but she spoke to her husband and recognized him.
Ryan’s children and grandchildren saw him in the hallway. They exchanged a brief hello with him. The family was not allowed to visit with him, as he was taken into the room to be with Lura Lynn.
Thompson said neither he nor the family were told that Ryan had been taken out of prison to visit Lura Lynn in intensive care. But he said he talked to Ryan by phone after he returned to prison. He said Ryan is grateful to authorities for the chance to see his wife.
“We’re grateful to the prison for the two hours, obviously. The family’s grateful. Mrs. Ryan I’m sure grateful. I’m sure it was therapeutic for her,” Thompson said. “But she remains in a grave condition and we’ve asked for bail to allow him to be at the bedside during this really horrible time.”
Following Ryan’s two hour visit, he made a point of showing his gratitude to the hospital staff.
Riverside Medical Center spokesman Carl Maronich said, “as he left, he thanked everybody and … went out of his way to make sure he found the nurse that was giving care and thanked her.”
Ryan’s visit to see his wife in the hospital came on the same day his attorneys filed an emergency motion with the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to have him released from prison on bail, while the court hears an appeal on his corruption convictions.
Just before 10 a.m., prosecutors released a 15-page response to the motion, arguing the court should reject Ryan’s request because his attorneys haven’t shown his appeal is likely to succeed.
While Ryan’s attorneys have said “absent bail, Ryan is very unlikely to see his wife again,” federal prosecutors said in a filing on Friday that Lura Lynn’s failing health should not be a factor in the court’s decision.
“Although the serious medical problems suffered by his wife are truly unfortunate, they do not warrant special treatment with respect to bail pending
appeal in the context of post-conviction proceedings,” prosecutors wrote.
They also pointed out that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons granted Ryan a trip to Kankakee to visit his wife at the Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee, where his wife is being treated. He visited with Lura Lynn for about two hours, from about 7:30 p.m. to 9:40 p.m., according to prosecutors.
“Thus, through normal prison procedures, Ryan has been able to visit with his wife,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors say releasing Ryan on bail to be with his wife would constitute special treatment.
Ryan’s attorney, former Gov. James Thompson, took a swipe at prosecutors for disclosing the visit, calling it “pretty shabby.”
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In their own filing on Friday, defense attorneys accused prosecutors of trying to use Ryan’s visit to the hospital “as a weapon to deny Ryan’s request for bail.”
Ryan’s attorneys said they were told the hospital visit, under prison escort, was supposed to be secret.
“The government this morning violated the policy, the same government that set the policy,” Thompson said. And said he believes it was a deliberate attempt to chip away at sympathy, now that Ryan has spent time at his wife’s bedside.
A two-hour mercy visit, he said, can’t be compared to Ryan getting released on bail.
“It’s not the same thing and for the government to do that this morning in their filing, I think, is pretty shabby,” Ryan said.
In a second filing on Friday, federal prosecutors defended their decision to reveal Ryan’s visit on Friday. They said they discussed the matter with prison officials before they made their filing and prison officials signed off on disclosing the visit.
Patrick Collins, the chief federal prosecutor in the Ryan case who now is in private practice, said he had no issue with allowing the hospital visit.
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“I have no issue whatsoever with the Bureau of Prisons decision to allow a visit to a dying spouse,” Collins said.
Collins said he had no objection with present prosecutors bringing up the hospital visit in argument against Ryan getting an appeal bond. He said he U.S. attorney’s office has a responsibility to bring up all circumstances it feels are relevant to the issue of bail .
Ryan’s attorneys are also asking the Bureau of Prisons to give him a furlough from incarceration so he can be at his wife’s bedside. The attorneys have suggested that he could stay at the Kankakee County Jail at night so he can be with Lura Lynn during the day.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer denied a request to release Ryan early, while his conviction is appealed.