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Will Jailed Governor George Ryan Walk?

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on July 20, 2012 4:08 PM

Disgraced Illinois Governor George Ryan may be scheduled for release from prison in 2013, but he was back in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday to challenge his conviction, The Associated Press reports.

Last year, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook, writing for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, noted that there was sufficient evidence of bribery and kickbacks in Ryan's case.

"Ryan observes that the jury was not required to determine whether ... payments [he received] were bribes or kickbacks. True enough; the question under the instructions ... was whether Ryan had received a secret financial benefit. But there is no doubt that a properly instructed jury could have deemed the payments bribes or kickbacks ... The district court's opinion canvasses the evidence and demonstrates why a reasonable jury could find that Ryan sold his offices to the high bidders."

In April, the Supreme Court remanded Ryan's case to the Seventh Circuit based on its Wood v. Milyard decision. (Wood addressed whether appellate courts have the authority to raise a forfeited timeliness defense sua sponte.)

Ryan was convicted of racketeering, mail fraud, tax evasion, and lying to the FBI in 2006. The mail-fraud charge alleged that Ryan defrauded Illinois of its intangible right to his honest services by covertly acting in the interests of some private supporters rather than as a fiduciary for the state's citizens. Ryan challenged the conviction, claiming that the jury instructions were defective because they permitted the jury to convict him on an honest-services theory without finding a bribe or a kickback.

The bribe or kickback element was also central to former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling's Supreme Court appeal. Skilling was convicted of conspiracy, securities fraud, making false representations to auditors, and insider trading associated with the Enron collapse. In 2010, the Supreme Court invalidated one of the grounds of Skilling's conspiracy charge - honest-services fraud - holding that the honest services statute applies only in cases involving bribery and kickbacks. Other applications, according to the Nine, are too vague to be constitutional.

During George Ryan's appeal, government prosecutors said that they didn't think Ryan had defaulted on his chance to bring up the Supreme Court's honest services decision, but the appellate court disregarded the prosecutors' argument reports the Huffington Post. In light of Wood, the justices remanded the case to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for further examination, guided by the Court's Wood holding.

Ryan's attorney, former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, told the AP that any new trial would focus solely on fraud convictions. Even if the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals gives Ryan a new trial, prosecutors would probably agree to have Ryan resentenced on the undisputed convictions, and released on time served.

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