Tuesday, April 18, 2006

George Ryan: "The verdict was in."

The press flocked to Room 2119 at the Federal Courthouse in the Loop, with most hearing around 10:30 am on Monday morning that “The verdict was in,” and the court would be revealing the verdict at 11:00 am. By 11:00 am, the left side of the courtroom was filled with about 70 media members and the rest were being sent to the overflow room.

Nothing happened at 11:00 am, but after that the big folks filtered in, including U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, Lead Defense Counsel for George Ryan, Dan Webb and then George, himself, and his co-defendant, Larry Warner. On the media side, Carol Marin, of WTTW, NBC-5 News and the Chicago Sun-Times, sat there patiently with her colleagues, but then left and brought back fellow Sun-Times columnist Cathleen Falsani.

Falsani, the hip, lefty religion columnist, was decked out in a black leather jacket to match her image. Treating it somewhat like a dinner party, Marin sandwiched Falsani between Kass and herself, noting the same to Falsani. There you go, two very different world views, I imagine: John Kass and Cathleen Falsani.

After over an hour of waiting, the room started getting quiet, as people sensed the court would be in session soon, and Judge Pallmeyer started the proceedings at 12:15 pm. The big event was over in fifteen minutes. As Eric Zorn discusses here, it was much quicker than anyone thought it would be. Guilty, as charged, on all counts, Ryan and Warner.

As Zorn further discusses [here], nine of the Ryan jurors held a press conference, shortly after the verdict. It was impressive. They understood why they didn’t have to see cash being placed in George Ryan’s hand before they could decide his guilt for such actions: circumstantial evidence. They understood closing arguments were not evidence, observing they heard more than enough evidence, before hearing those arguments, to have a foundation for their jury deliberations. They seemed to have understood how to bring alternate jurors into the deliberations, when the judge replaced other jurors who became tainted.

They were aware of the attempt by the Court to keep out of the trial George Ryan’s adulation by many for his moratorium on the death penalty, and his commutation of those on death row to life in prison. Similarly, they understood the deaths of the Willis children were also not a part of the body of the evidence to consider at trial, and they apparently followed those understandings.

They also knew which issues to address, and which to say, “no comment,”

In short, this was a savvy, conscientious jury. Winston and Strawn may watch the tape and find reversible error for their client, George Ryan, but I don’t think they will find it in the jury process. Of course, there may reversible error in other aspects of the conduct of the trial.
What does it all mean? Is George Ryan a “tragic figure,” as Phil Ponce suggested on Monday evening’s Chicago Tonight, which focused exclusively on George Ryan: his background, the trial, the verdict and the verdict’s implication for other politicians in Illinois. About seven months ago, I wrote this and I think it still pretty much sums up where we are on George Ryan:

Carol, Carol: George Ryan can’t cop a plea. Try him, if you must. Convict him, if you must. Put him in jail for the rest of his life, if you must. Indeed, crucify him, if you must. But, he has his legacy. Senator Dick Durbin, his fellow Democrats and the mainstream media have seen to that. Yes, the media may turn on him over the next few weeks. But will Professor Larry Marshall, from Palo Alto, turn on George? Will Senator Durbin, while trying to defeat Supreme Court nominee Roberts [the man who Durbin thinks will undo Blackmun’s Roe] come back from Washington, DC to turn on George? I don’t think so. A deal is a deal.

Indeed, will you Carol? Will you turn on George?

Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at JBCG@aol.com