Wife of jailed former Illinois Gov. George Ryan dies

CHICAGO Tue Jun 28, 2011 4:06pm EDT

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Lura Lynn Ryan, the wife of jailed former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, has died at age 76 with her husband at her side, officials said on Tuesday.

Lura Lynn was at a hospital in Kankakee when she died on Monday night at 10:40 p.m. local time, according to Kankakee County Coroner Robert Gessner. She had suffered from lung cancer.

George Ryan is serving a 6-1/2 year sentence in federal prison on corruption charges. His warden granted him a temporary release to be with his wife for her final hours, said one of Ryan's lawyers, former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson. Ryan has been allowed to visit his wife of 55 years four times since January.

"It was a comfort to him and to their children," Thompson said. "They did not want to make the decision to take her off the respirator without him being present."

George Ryan, a Republican, had been nominated several times for a Nobel Peace Prize because of his opposition to the death penalty. He imposed a moratorium on executions in Illinois after 13 death row inmates were found to have been wrongly convicted. Illinois has since abolished the death penalty.

Ryan was convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, fraud and other offenses involving favoritism and kickbacks for state contracts and property leases.

A federal judge in December had denied Ryan's request to be freed from prison to attend to his ailing wife.

Thompson said that Lura Lynn's devotion to her husband throughout his criminal proceedings was extraordinary.

"It was brave, it was courageous, both when he was on trial and during his appeals, and while he was in the penitentiary and trying to keep herself alive so she could be alive if and when he was released," Thompson said. "Finally in the end her body didn't keep up with her will."

The scandal surrounding George Ryan paved the way for Democrats to regain the Illinois governor's seat for the first time in a quarter century with Rod Blagojevich's election in 2002. Blagojevich was convicted on Monday on 17 of 20 charges of corruption.

(Writing by Mary Wisniewski, Editing by Greg McCune and Cynthia Johnston).

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