Ryan's Reasons for Commuting Death Sentences

Former governor discusses groundbreaking decision in deposition from prison

By Marcus Riley
|  Monday, Mar 21, 2011  |  Updated 10:15 PM CDT
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The former governor talks about how he came to the decision to commute the sentences of 164 death row inmates.

The former governor talks about how he came to the decision to commute the sentences of 164 death row inmates.

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It's the first time we've heard former Gov. George Ryan's voice since he went to prison on corruption charges.

NBC Chicago filed a freedom of information request for the tape of a 2010 deposition Ryan gave in connection with a lawsuit.

Ryan speaks at length about what led to his ground-breaking decision to commute the sentences of 167 inmates on death row. He said the case of Anthony Porter -- a man who spent 15 years on death row even though he was innocent -- caused him to look more closely at the issue.

"How many innocent people were sitting on death row facing death? That was my concern and the reason that I did what I did. I didn't want to see any innocent people electrocuted," Ryan said during the deposition.

Ryan also spoke about being swayed by meetings with the families of inmates, including a high school friend from his hometown of Kankakee whose son was on death row. He also recalled meeting with families of the victims who "threw stuff at me when I stood on the podium and swore at me, and you know, called me all kinds of names when I hadn't really made up my mind."

Ryan said commuting all of the death row sentences was the right thing to do, instead of taking a chance that one innocent person would die.

"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," Ryan said.

The deposition was for a civil case involving a person pardoned by Ryan when he was governor.

Ryan is serving a six and a half year prison sentence after being convicted of numerous corruption charges.

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