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Ex-Gov. George Ryan heard on tape talking of pardons


Updated: March 27, 2011 11:48PM

For the first time since 2007, former Gov. George Ryan’s voice can be heard from beyond prison walls, after the city released an audio interview of the former governor late Monday.

The unprecedented March 2010 deposition, given from a Terre Haute, Ind. federal prison, captures a frustrated, forgetful, but often impassioned Ryan as he fields questions about one of the inmates he pardoned while in office.

The roughly two-hour audio file was released in response to a Chicago Sun-Times Freedom of Information Act request.

Ryan sounds at ease early in the deposition, joking about prison food (“Make arrangements for lunch here?” he asks his attorneys. “I think it’s bologna for lunch today.”) and taking digs at his successors (“Big backlog there now,” he says, commenting on a growing number of pardon requests. “Quinn has got to clear it out. Blagojevich didn’t do anything.”)

But as the deposition wears on, the former governor grows harried. Faced with an onslaught of questions about his pardons, Ryan gets flustered, raising his voice and frequently cutting off lawyers’ questions despite repeated reminders to change his behavior.

While Ryan’s own actions were not on trial, he grows defensive of his decisions, especially his mass commutation of nearly 170 Death Row inmates’ sentences in 2003.

“I mean, I pardoned guys that I knew were guilty or at least thought they were, but I didn’t want any innocent people killed,” Ryan says at one point. “But I don’t have to tell you why I did it, what I thought about it any more than I have to tell you why I thought why he should have it or shouldn’t have it. I just used my judgment like I did on a lot of things I did in the time I spent in government. That’s called leadership.”

“How did I get that many?” he says, almost whispering, when an attorney pegs the ex-governor’s total pardons at 459. “But I’m glad I did.”

Ryan submitted to the interview from where he’s serving a 6 ½ year corruption sentence in Terre Haute, Ind.

Representing the city, Avi T. Kamionski and Andrew M. Hale were blocked from calling Ryan as a witness at a trial to explain why he pardoned Oscar Walden on the basis of innocence. Walden, 79, brought claims against the city, saying he was falsely convicted. He lost his bid at trial. On Monday, his lawyer filed a bid for a new trial.

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