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Former Gov. George Ryan will remain free while he pursues a second appeal of his sweeping fraud and corruption convictions, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled late this afternoon. In a crushing legal blow to the former governor earlier today, a three-judge panel from the appeals court denied Ryan's initial appeal 2-1. The judges found that Ryan received a fair trial last year despite a series of juror controversies.

Though Ryan had been allowed to remain free pending that appeal, the court had warned that Ryan and co-defendant Lawrence Warner would have to report to prison within 72 hours if they lost it. Ryan faces a 6 1/2 -year prison sentence.

This afternoon, however, the court stayed that order, finding that Ryan could remain free while a second appeal plays out. Under this afternoon's ruling, Ryan will remain free until the full 7th Circuit—a group of 11 judges—refuses to hear his case or until the full court hears his case and makes a ruling.

A decision on whether the full court would hear Ryan's case could take about six to eight weeks, and a ruling on the case could take until December or January, according to Joel Bertocchi, an attorney who specializes in appellate law.

In pledging to appeal the three-judge panel's decision, Former Gov. James Thompson, a Ryan attorney, noted this afternoon that Judge Michael Kanne issued "a powerful dissent" in which he concluded that the convictions should be overturned and a new trial held.

"No court anywhere has ever deprived a defendant of his life and liberty under these circumstances," Thompson said, alleging that the verdict was unfair because two jurors were replaced during deliberations.

"We believe they reached the wrong result," Thompson said. Ryan, he said, would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

In its decision this morning, the three-judge panel found that U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer acted within her authority when she replaced the jurors after the Tribune revealed they had failed to disclose information about their criminal backgrounds.

"We conclude that the district court handled most problems that arose in an acceptable manner, and that whatever error remained was harmless," Judge Diane Wood wrote for the panel. "We therefore affirm the convictions."

Ryan was convicted in April 2006 on charges that as secretary of state and governor, he doled out sweetheart deals to co-defendant Warner and other friends and used state resources and employees for political gain.

Warner's conviction also was affirmed today. He was sentenced to almost 3 1/2 years in prison.

Thompson said Ryan was disappointed by the three-judge panel's decision but said he is a "strong guy."

"He's been through a lot," Thompson said. "I worry about him and Mrs. Ryan. But he has faith in the judicial system. He's always had that. He has a very supportive family. . . . He'll take it as it comes day by day."

At the Kankakee home of Ryan and his wife, Lura Lynn, their son Homer Ryan answered the door only to say that the family would not discuss the day's events.

Marie Spalding, 69, who has been Ryan's neighbor for 37 years, said the former governor has "always been there for anybody who ever needed help."

"It's the saddest thing that ever could have happened," she said of the appellate court's decision. "He's a wonderful, wonderful man. He's helped out people in this whole neighborhood."

Another neighbor, Denyell Finch, 27, who lives just a few blocks north of Ryan, said she didn't think he should go to jail. "I don't think it's all his fault," she said.

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