Until I Could Be Sure: How I Stopped the Death Penalty in Illinois

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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
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6.3 X 9.1 X 1.1 inches | 1.3 pounds

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About the Author

George H. Ryan Sr. was the 39th Governor of the State of Illinois. Born in 1934, the son of a pharmacist, Ryan grew up in Kankakee, Illinois. He was first elected to state office in 1972 as an Illinois State Representative. He served two terms as Minority Leader of the House of Representatives and one term as Speaker of the House. He served as Illinois Lieutenant Governor from 1983 to 1991, as Illinois Secretary of State from 1991 to 1999, and then was Governor from 1999 to 2003. Ryan was the first Governor in U.S. history to suspend the death penalty, declaring a moratorium in 2000. In 2003, as he left office, Ryan emptied death row in Illinois by issuing a blanket commutation order. He was indicted in 2003 and convicted of federal corruption charges relating to conduct while he was Illinois Secretary of State. He served nearly six years in prison and was released in 2013. Age 84, Ryan still travels extensively to speak about the death penalty and the criminal justice system, as well as to support humanitarian efforts in Cuba. Maurice Possley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of three non-fiction books. Ryan cited the reportage of Possley and his colleagues at the Chicago Tribune when he declared the moratorium and emptied death row. Possley is now senior researcher for the National Registry of Exonerations, a national database of more than 2,500 wrongful convictions maintained by the University of Michigan Law School, Michigan State University College of Law and University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science & Society.


Governor Ryan's actions are a pure beacon of light in a dark era in our nation. His is a resounding voice of conscience in a time of corrosive political maneuvering. As for Gov. Ryan's commutation of the sentences of those on death row - I see this as his most inspiring act of moral courage. He could easily have left the condemned languishing in legal limbo, but he followed his moral stance for a moratorium through to a righteous conclusion for those remaining on death row, freeing them from the anguish and terror of death at the hands of the state. Gov. Ryan's act of moral integrity triumphed over political expediency and has illumined a path for our nation. May we all walk in his light.--Sister Helen Prejean, Author of "Dead Man Walking"
Under Governor George Ryan's leadership, Illinois consolidated the forces that diminished the death penalty's use, emboldening the abolition of the death penalty in other states, other governors' moratoria on executions, and prosecutors' decisions across the country to stop using the punishment.--James Liebman, Professor, Columbia Law School, Author of "The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution"
There's a Greek word--peripeteia-- that describes the moment Governor George Ryan realized everything he believed about the death penalty was wrong. Thirteen innocent men on Illinois' death row had been exonerated and it might only be the beginning. Knowing he would stand alone, George Ryan faced a soul wrenching decision that would shock the nation. It's a story of integrity and a choice made because he believed it was the right thing to do despite life changing odds. This book tells us why he chose the most difficult path. It should be placed on the shelf of every politician in America.--Bill Kurtis, Documentary Producer and Television Anchor
This book is not only about the death penalty. It is a chronicle that teaches us about integrity, leadership, growth, and the struggle to do the right thing. Those who care to listen will be touched by the lessons from Governor Ryan's journey for decades to come. He leads us on.--Michael L. Radelet, University of Colorado
George Ryan's courageous act made our dreams reality. It was, in my view, one of the single most impactful events in propelling the abolition movement forward, making possible the successes we've seen ever since.--Mike Farrell, best known as 'BJ Hunnicutt' of television's legendary "M*A*S*H", President of Dealth Penalty Focus, Author of "Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist" and "Of Mule and Man"
Illinois put innocence on the map and that is still the most influential issue for many people when it comes to the death penalty.--Richard Dieter, former Executive Director, Death Penalty Information Center
This book is the compelling, personal and highly evocative story of a man who finds himself confronting a long-held belief - that the death penalty was a necessary part of the criminal justice system - and finding that belief shattered by the facts. After seeing wrongful conviction after wrongful conviction, Governor Ryan found himself unable to sign his name to any more death warrants. He first imposed a moratorium on executions, then pardoned four innocent men on death row and commuted the rest of those on death row to life sentences. Many accused Governor Ryan of doing this to "cover" his so-called corruption. Nothing could be further from the truth - taking these actions were much more likely to inflame those in law enforcement than distract them from prosecuting him. George Ryan's transformation from death penalty supporter to death penalty opponent is fascinating, instructive and ultimately inspiring.--Andrea D. Lyon, Professor Emeritus, Valparaiso University Law School, principal at Lyon Law