UPDATED 04/30/12 5:15 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Former Gov. George Ryan has served most of his 6 1/2 year prison sentence and is set to be released next year, but he will have a chance to appeal for a new trial again before that.
Courthouse News Service reports the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that Ryan will get another chance to appeal his case to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“It’s the first time George Ryan has won since the day he was indicted,” one of Ryan’s attorney’s, former Gov. James R. Thompson, said Monday.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports
Last year, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Ryan’s appeal, in which his attorneys argued that because the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the honest services law, his most serious conviction should be thrown out.
The appeals panel said Ryan could have challenged the honest services law on direct appeal of his conviction, as former Enron chief executive officer Jeffrey Skilling did in the case that led the Supreme Court to overturn parts of the law. Media mogul Conrad Black, the former CEO of then-Sun-Times parent company Hollinger International, also challenged his conviction based on the honest services law and got part of it tossed, the panel pointed out.
But when Ryan first appealed his conviction, he did not address the honest services law.
Ryan’s first appeal, filed shortly after his conviction in 2006, focused instead on misconduct among the jurors in his trial – two of whom were removed eight days into deliberations for failing to disclose criminal backgrounds, and a third of whom was tossed for sleeping during the trial.
Ryan defense attorney Andrea Lyon says the high court agreed that the appeals panel rejected Ryan’s request for a new trial on a technicality, rather than looking at the important issue.
Lyon says the Supreme Court ruling is good news.
“It means that we’ll actually get to talk about what happened at this trial, and hopefully the Court of Appeals will understand that George Ryan was convicted on something that is not legally cognizable anymore, and will vacate that conviction,” Lyon said. “That will not touch the tax or false statements conviction, but he’s served his time on those, and he would be paroled right away if these convictions were vacated.”
Lyon says she believes Ryan would have a good chance at winning a new trial.
Another legal tactic, an appeal bond, could see Ryan released soon, says CBS 2 Irv Miller.
But Ryan’s lawyers haven’t decided whether to pursue that. If they win bail and then lose the appeal, Ryan may have to return to prison — an unattractive option for a 78-year-old man.
Still, Thompson says Ryan is holding up fairly well.
“You all know George, he’s a tough guy,” he said. “So, when you talk to him on the phone, it’s ‘I’m OK.’”
The Supreme Court decision came six days after the high court ruled that appellate panels cannot deny a habeas petition by a convict based on issues that prosecutors never chose to raise.
In the case of Wood v. Milyard, the high court ruled last week that a Colorado appeals panel was wrong in denying a request for a new trial for Patrick Wood, who is serving a life sentence for a 1987 murder and robbery at a Colorado pizza shop. The appeals panel denied the petition because he filed it too late, but prosecutors never raised the issue of timeliness, Courthouse News Service reported.
Prosecutors likewise did not raise the issue of jury instructions in the Ryan case.
Ryan’s wife, Lura Lynn Ryan, died on June 27 of last year after a long battle with lung cancer. Ryan was released from prison for several hours so he could be with his wife at the time of her passing.
Ryan, 78, is due for release from prison on July 4, 2013. He is serving his sentence in Terre Haute, Ind.