CHICAGO – George Ryan was released from a federal prison in the dark on Wednesday morning, and Illinois became a state with only one former governor behind bars.
By daybreak, news cameramen were already taking down their equipment in front of a Chicago halfway house, where Mr. Ryan made a brief stop before being placed under house arrest. Mr. Ryan is only allowed to leave his home in Kankakee, Ill., for approved outings like medical appointments until his sentence officially ends in July.
It was a morning not too unusual for people living in a state that has grown familiar with the sight of convicted politicians.
"I think they're used to it," said Don Rose, a longtime political consultant in Chicago. "They barely pay any attention to that."
Outside of the state, Mr. Ryan is best known as the "other" governor from Illinois who was convicted of corruption. His trial in 2006 has since been largely overshadowed by the fanfare surrounding his successor, former Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, who was convicted of, among other things, trying to sell the United States Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama in 2008.
They are among four Illinois governors who have been found guilty of wrongdoing in recent history, along with hundreds of public officials and business leaders charged with public corruption in recent decades.
Before his corruption trial, Mr. Ryan was best known for a moratorium on capital punishment in Illinois. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for commuting more than 160 death sentences in 2003, clearing the state's death row in the final hours before he left the governor's office after serving one term.
His indictment later that year came amid a years-long federal investigation that led to more than 70 convictions of Illinois state officials, government employees and business leaders. Mr. Ryan was accused of handing out state contracts to friends in exchange for bribes during his tenure as secretary of state and as governor. He was convicted of 18 counts, including racketeering and fraud, and was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.
Throughout years of appeals, Mr. Ryan continued to maintain his innocence. "He did some favors for friends who had done favors for him in the past," Albert Alschuler, one of his lawyers, said in an interview this week. "That's not the same thing as bribery."
On Wednesday, Mr. Ryan, 78, did not speak to reporters. But former Gov. James R. Thompson, another lawyer for Mr. Ryan, said his client has paid a "severe price" while in an Indiana federal prison, which he was twice allowed to leave briefly in 2011 to visit a hospital where his wife was dying.
"The loss of his pension, his office, his good name, and five and a half years of imprisonment." Mr. Thompson said, "Now near 80 years old, that is a significant punishment."
After his sentence ends in July, Mr. Ryan plans to continue his work to abolish the death penalty in other states, lawyers said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.