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Ryan secretly visited ailing wife

George Ryan  |  AP

George Ryan | AP

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Updated: January 8, 2011 2:30AM

The room was cleared of any grandchildren, his own kids and any visitors.

Then for about two hours, former Gov. George Ryan, who has been held in prison since 2007, visited his ailing wife’s bedside in a hospital room Wednesday night, an escorted visit allowed by his prison warden.

It was a visit not revealed in subsequent days to the public, which had been gripped by the human tragedy of a former first lady who, by her husband’s lawyers’ account to an appeals court this week, was fighting to stay alive: “until she can be with her husband and say goodbye.”

On Friday, prosecutors made the visit known, a disclosure that touched off a series of reactions and legal filings as George Ryan continued to ask to throw out his 2006 conviction and to be released on bond in the meantime.

Former Gov. Jim Thompson, a family friend and attorney who’s been making the case in the news media for Ryan’s release, said prison officials asked him not to disclose the meeting. A prisons spokesperson said the bureau does not restrict what family members or attorneys can or cannot say.

Thompson as recently as Thursday said he hadn’t heard word from prison officials or the court, now said he didn’t want to be disingenuous.

“I didn’t want to mislead the press, I haven’t done that in 52 years, and I’m not starting now,” Thompson said Friday. “We were told ‘no press.’ If they say they have a policy of ‘no press,’ what am I supposed to do? George Ryan is in the penitentiary. I don’t want the penitentiary mad at him or us. They told George ‘no press,’ and we followed that.”

“The Bureau of Prisons has a policy about not commenting on supervised release, and we respected that policy,” Thompson said.

Asked Friday of the contention that prison officials would instruct an inmate or outside parties not to talk about such a visit, even afterwards, a U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman laughed.

“I find that difficult to believe,” spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said. “We don’t have anything that would prohibit anyone else from talking about it.”

In its Friday morning filing, the government opposed Ryan’s release on bond. Saying that the emergency bedside visit allowed to Ryan was typical of what most inmates would receive. Anything more would amount to “special treatment,” they argued.

Lura Lynn Ryan was taken to a Kankakee hospital Wednesday after going into what her doctors described as septic shock. Thompson called her condition “very grave.”

Ryan’s lawyers filed an emergency motion Wednesday seeking Ryan’s release on bond, saying Lura Lynn family had been called to her bedside. They did not file a subsequent disclosure detailing a visit by her husband that happened later that night.

On Friday, Thompson said the fact that Ryan had a brief visit with his wife isn’t a reason to deny him bail.

“The two hours have nothing to do with the request for bail,” Thompson said. Lawyers are still seeking a furlough for Ryan, which is a longer release from prison. That can be granted by the institution, and from 2007 to 2009, about 13 percent of federal prison inmates have been granted furloughs. They’re also still seeking that Ryan be freed on bond pending appeal of his conviction.

Thompson was clearly unhappy that the U.S. Attorney’s Office made public Friday that Ryan got to see his wife.

“What the government did in their bail motion is pretty shabby,” Thompson said. “One arm (of the government) says not to disclose. The other arm is disclosing the visit and arguing that’s the equivalent of bail on appeal, which it certainly is not.”

Ryan’s lawyers further accused the U.S. Attorney’s office of violating bureau policy by disclosing the visit, saying that defense lawyers were “admonished” not to discuss it with the press and public.

Federal prison officials themselves normally don’t talk about matters involving prisoners’ escorted visits or lengthier furloughs, Billingsley said.

But she said there’s no bar on family members or lawyers discussing a prisoner’s temporary release, especially after it’s taken place.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office disclosed that Ryan had visited his wife in a filing with the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in which prosecutors objected to Ryan’s bid for a release on bail pending appeal. They said they violated no bureau of prisons policy; having asked the prisons if they objected before revealing the George Ryan visit.

“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.

“The government does not dispute that Mrs. Ryan’s medical condition is grave.”

Prosecutors further wrote that the appeals court should reject Ryan’s bail request because “Ryan has not shown that his appeal is likely to succeed. This court has repeatedly cautioned that the courts’ limited authority to grant bail in the context of collateral proceedings should be exercised ‘very sparingly.’ ”

Last month, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled against Ryan’s bid for bail. Pallmeyer agreed with prosecutors that Ryan’s lawyers hadn’t made a compelling case he would succeed in appealing his conviction on the grounds by relying on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limited the scope of the “honest services” law under which Ryan was prosecuted.

“The district court correctly determined that Ryan should not receive treatment that other defendants would not receive based on his wife’s medical condition,” prosecutors wrote.

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