Gov. Ryan reflects from prison on decision to clear death row

March 1, 2011

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A court document is providing new insight into former Illinois Governor George Ryan's decision to clear death row in the last days of his administration.  His reflections are contained in a deposition he gave to an attorney for the City of Chicago involved in a wrongful conviction lawsuit.  The city was being sued by Oscar Walden, a man Ryan pardoned on the basis of innocence.  The city attorney tried to undercut that pardon.

The attorney asked Ryan how much time he spent on each pardon he granted, 15, 20 minutes?  Did the governor investigate the crimes or talk to witnesses?

Ryan said he relied on the investigations done by the prisoner review board and assumed they did their job right,  but he says he remembers burning the midnight oil in his office with files all over the floor.  He says he read about each prisoner's life, from childhood all the way through conviction.

Ryan says he was positive innocent men were awaiting executio,  but he couldn't tell who was innocent and who was guilty ,so he cleared death row because, "if there's one that's innocent, I'm not going to wake up six months after I leave office and say, that guy got killed, and I could have saved him and didn't," said Ryan.