KANKAKEE – Former Gov. George Ryan regrets letting what turned out to be the last execution in Illinois proceed, he prays regularly for six children killed in a fiery crash linked to a state agency he once headed, and he’s done answering questions about the marathon corruption trial that led to his imprisonment.
The 80-year-old spoke in his first interviews since his 2013 release from a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. The interviews with his hometown Kankakee newspaper, The Daily Journal, and the Chicago Sun-Times also coincided with the formal end on Wednesday of the Republican’s supervised release.
“I don’t have to get permission to do anything anymore,” he told The Daily Journal.
Despite his five years behind bars, Ryan said he had few regrets in life.
But one, he said, was his decision in his first year as governor not to intercede and stop the 1999 execution of Andrew Kokoraleis. Soon after, Ryan placed a moratorium on executions and that eventually led Illinois to abolish the death penalty by law in 2011.
“I regretted killing that Greek fella,” Ryan said.
Kokoraleis, the last prisoner executed in the state, was killed by lethal injection for the rape, kidnapping and murder of a 21-year-old Elmhurst woman, Lorraine Borowski. Citing systemic flaws, Ryan declared the moratorium a year later. In 2003, he cleared death row.
Those measures by a one-time capital punishment advocate made Ryan a hero to many death penalty foes.
But some of his prison guards in Indiana, Ryan told the Sun-Times, “were angry over my death penalty moratorium.” Without additional details, he said, “They made things a little rough, but you deal with it.”
Ryan also spoke about his wife, Lura Lynn, who died in 2011 while he was still in prison.
“I had planned to travel with my wife, who was the love of my life,” he said. “I still plan to get in the car and travel. And I’ll always have Lura Lynn with me.”
One set of questions Ryan declined to answer was about his six-month trial. It ended in 2006 with convictions for racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI.
“Everyone had a chance to read about it, write about it,” he told the Daily Journal. “I’ve said all I’m going to say on it.”
Ryan also addressed the deaths of six Willis family children in an accident involving a trucker who apparently bought his license when Ryan was secretary of state. The crash helped spark the Ryan investigation.
“It was a terrible, heartbreaking thing to have happened to the Willis family,” Ryan told the Sun-Times.
“Lura Lynn and I put them in our daily prayers then and that continues to this day.”