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George Ryan Fast Facts

CNN Editorial Research

Here is a look at the life of George Ryan, the former governor of Illinois who served time in prison after being convicted on racketeering, conspiracy and fraud charges.


Birth date: February 24, 1934

Birth place: Maquoketa, Iowa

Birth name: George Homer Ryan

Father: Thomas Ryan, pharmacist

Mother: Jeannette Ryan

Marriage: Lura Lynn Lowe (1956-June 27, 2011, her death)

Children: Nancy, Lynda, George Jr. and triplets: Julie, Joanne and Jeanette

Education: Ferris State College, B.S., 1961

Military service: Army, 1954-1956

Religion: Methodist

Other Facts

Worked as a pharmacist at his family’s business.

“Our capital punishment system is haunted by the demon of error — error in determining guilt, error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die,” Ryan said in a 2003 speech announcing blanket commutations.

The 163 men and four women whose sentences Ryan commuted were convicted of killing more than 250 people.


1968 – Serves as chairman of the Kankakee, Illinois, County Board.

1972 – Is elected to the Illinois House of Representatives.

1981-1983 – Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.

1983-1991 – Lieutenant governor of Illinois.

1990 – Becomes secretary of state under Governor Jim Edgar.

November 3, 1998 – Is elected governor of Illinois.

January 11, 1999 – Takes office as governor.

October 1999 – Meets with Cuban President Fidel Castro during a humanitarian mission. It is the first visit to Cuba by a sitting US governor since Castro took power in 1959.

January 31, 2000 – Calls for a moratorium on executions, “until I can be sure that everyone sentenced to death in Illinois is truly guilty.”

August 8, 2001 – Rules out running for reelection because of a scandal over bribery.

October 2002 – Orders the Illinois Prisoner Review Board to hold two weeks of clemency hearings for almost all of the death row inmates. He does not attend the hearings.

January 11, 2003 – In one of his last acts as governor of Illinois, Ryan commutes the sentences of all 167 inmates on Illinois’s death row.

December 17, 2003 – Is indicted on federal charges of taking payoffs, gifts and vacations in return for government contracts and leases.

April 2006 – Convicted of racketeering conspiracy, fraud and other offenses for taking payoffs from political insiders in exchange for state business while he was Illinois secretary of state and governor.

September 6, 2006 – Is sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison.

November 7, 2007 – Ryan reports to the Federal Correctional Institution in Oxford, Wisconsin, to begin serving his prison sentence.

February 28, 2008 – Is transferred to Terra Haute FCI in Indiana.

November 25, 2008 – Ryan appeals for clemency in a letter to President George W. Bush. He is backed in his clemency appeal by Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Bush leaves office on January 20 without granting Ryan clemency.

December 12, 2008 – Ryan apologizes for the crimes he committed in office as part of his bid for clemency. He says, “I want to make things right in my heart with God, with my family and with those I have hurt…As a former public official, a husband, a father and a grandfather, I apologize.”

February 7, 2009 – An Illinois appellate court rules that Ryan is eligible for part of his state pension, an estimated $65,000 a year. The pension will cover the years he worked in the state legislature and as the lieutenant governor.

February 19, 2010 – The Illinois Supreme Court reverses the appellate court decision, stating that Ryan is not entitled to any of his state pension.

June 27, 2011 – Ryan’s wife Lura dies after suffering from terminal lung cancer. Ryan is temporarily released from prison so that he can be with her during her final hours.

January 30, 2013 – Is released to home confinement to complete the rest of his sentence.

July 3, 2013 – Is released from home confinement.

September 10-September 13, 2018 – At the invitation of the Cuban government, revisits the country along with Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls, and others.

December 13, 2018 – The Woman’s Club of Kankakee, Illinois, honors three former governors from the city, including Ryan, with its “Three Governors Wall.” Ryan attends the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

September 18, 2020 – His book, co-written with Maurice Possley, titled “Until I Could Be Sure: How I Stopped the Death Penalty in Illinois,” is released.

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