7th Circuit Won’t Toss George Ryan Convictions

     CHICAGO (CN) – Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan will stay in jail after the 7th Circuit upheld his mail-fraud conviction.

     Ryan is nearly midway through a 6 1/2-year sentence for racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and lying to the FBI.
     Despite a previously unsuccessful appeal to the 7th Circuit, Ryan launched a collateral attack on his conviction, arguing that jury instructions and several evidentiary rulings were defective in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Skilling v. United States. The errors, Ryan contended, permitted the jury to convict him on an honest-services theory without finding a bribe or kickback.
     But, the court found Skilling permits his conviction for mail fraud because the record established that Ryan took bribes in exchange for official services.
     “Jury instructions that misstate the elements of an offense are not themselves a ground of collateral relief; likewise with erroneous evidentiary rulings,” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the court.
     The decision from the federal appeals court upholds U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer.
     Whereas lawyers for Jeffrey Skilling challenged the mail-fraud statute directly, Ryan’s layers contributed to the jury instructions that they now claim caused prejudice, thus forfeiting the challenge, the three-judge panel found.
     “If Ryan’s lawyers had done what Skilling’s lawyers did, the controlling decision today might be Ryan rather than Skilling,” Easterbrook wrote, referencing the fact that Ryan’s petition for certiorari beat Skilling’s to the Supreme Court.
     In 2006, Ryan was convicted of awarding state contracts to friends and donors during his terms as secretary of state and governor in exchange for money and gifts. He is now 77 years old.
     “We will fight on,” Ryan’s attorney told reporters. “It is a setback. But it’s not the last recourse.”
     The ruling comes a week after Ryan’s wife, Lura Lynn Ryan, died of lung cancer. Despite a court order denying his request to visit, Ryan was released by the warden for several hours to be with his wife during her final moments. The couple had been married for 55 years.

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