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George Ryan Found Guilty

The introduction of DNA technology helped overturn untold numbers of criminal convictions in Illinois. Alarmingly, by January 2003, Illinois had exonerated seventeen wrongfully convicted death row inmates. While Governor, George Ryan put a moratorium on executions and commissioned a panel to make suggestions for mending the state's death penalty system. However, the legislature failed to enact the committee's recommendations. That month, in his final days in office, Ryan commuted the death sentences of 167 men and women on death row.

Announcing his decision in a speech to the Northwestern University College of Law, Ryan explained how unfair and unreliable the state's court system had become. He revealed that thirty-three Illinois death row inmates received representation by attorneys later disbarred or suspended from practicing law. Thirty-five were African Americans convicted or condemned by all-white juries. In fact, more than two-thirds of the state's death row inmates were African Americans. Additionally, testimony from jailhouse informants was enough to convict forty-six of the inmates.

Ryan stressed the importance of his position. "To say it plainly," he said, "the Illinois capital punishment system is broken. It has taken innocent men to a hair's breadth escape from their unjust execution." Ryan's efforts earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Yesterday, a federal jury in Chicago convicted Ryan on eighteen counts of accepting cash, gifts, and vacations in exchange for state business contracts. Ryan was the highest-ranking of seventy-nine Illinois state workers and lobbyists caught up in a federal investigation that resulted in seventy-three convictions to date. Obviously, it's not just the Illinois capital punishment system that needs fixing.

Ryan's attorneys plan to appeal.
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