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Ex-Illinois Gov. Ryan prison tapes released: 'I pardoned guys I knew were guilty'

CHICAGO — The public has heard very little from former Illinois Gov. George Ryan since he was locked up in a federal prison camp three years ago for public corruption. Until now.

Recordings have been released of Ryan being questioned in prison by attorneys in a civil lawsuit. The session occurred about a year ago, when Ryan sat for nearly two hours and fielded a wide range of questions.

He was testy and combative during the two-hour deposition, confident in his answers and sometimes funny in comments about life in jail.

After asking attorneys if they planned to eat lunch at the prison, Ryan jokes: "A little prison food would probably be good for all of you. I think it's baloney for lunch today." The lawyers laugh.

Ryan sat down to talk about Oscar Walden Jr., a 79-year-old man convicted of rape decades ago who sued the city after Ryan granted him a pardon of innocence.


But the conversation wandered to his decision to clear death row and grant mass clemencies in the waning days of office in late 2002 and 2003.

"I mean, I pardoned guys that I knew were guilty or at least thought they were, but I didn't want any innocent people killed," Ryan says.

"But I don't have to tell you why I did it," he continues. "I just used my judgment like I did on a lot of things I did in the time I spent in government. That's what's called leadership."

Ryan then adds, "I'm not getting paid by the hour to be here by the way."

The former governor also talked about his loss of freedom. "You don't know what it's all about until they take it away from you. I hope you never find out."

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