A day-care operator, a self-employed carpenter, a marathoner and two Postal Service employees were among 12 jurors and six alternates picked Tuesday to decide the fate of former Gov. George Ryan.
No sooner had the jury been selected than lawyers and prosecutors skirmished over two key issues that Ryan's attorneys want jurors to hear, including a telephone call of Ryan's secretly tape-recorded by federal authorities.
Opening statements are set to take place Wednesday in the trial of Ryan and co-defendant Lawrence Warner on wide-ranging corruption charges alleging that the former governor and his family benefited financially from steering millions of dollars in state contracts and leases to friends.
The trial is expected to last about four months, and the government plans to open its evidence in dramatic fashion Thursday by putting Scott Fawell, Ryan's former top aide, on the stand as its first witness.
In a compromise, prosecutors agreed to let Ryan's wife, Lura Lynn, attend the bulk of the trial even though the defense may call her to testify about the couple's cash expenditures, a subject of contention in the case. Mrs. Ryan will be excluded from hearing witnesses bearing on her testimony.
Even though prospective jurors answered 110 questions in writing in advance, the selection process dragged out over six days as dozens of people were questioned individually in U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer's courtroom.
Despite the publicity engendered by the high-profile prosecution, most of those questioned professed to know little about the Operation Safe Road probe that snared Ryan or the nature of the charges against him.
Many knew of Ryan's decision as governor to clear Death Row, but few expressed strong feelings about that decision or Ryan in particular.
A number of people, though, were excused because of bias toward Ryan, including one man Tuesday who questioned how Ryan could have been unaware of wrongdoing when so many employees beneath him had been charged.
Another potential juror was dismissed for describing Ryan in the written questionnaire as the "usual political type--egotistical, long-winded, craves the spotlight."
In the end, the jury has a diverse cross-section of women, men, African-Americans and whites, including a 22-year-old part-time supervisor for United Parcel Service, a retiree from Maywood, an SBC lineman active in gay rights, a mother who works part-time and the owner of a candy-packaging business.
In a lighter moment Tuesday, a woman who said her father was a first cousin of the late Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana raised the relationship to make sure it wouldn't "become a big issue" later. Though she didn't express any animosity toward the government, she wasn't selected to serve on the jury.
With opening statements set for Wednesday, prosecutors sought to block Ryan's lawyers from disclosing to jurors the undercover telephone call to Ryan by Donald Udstuen, once part of the former governor's "kitchen cabinet" of prominent advisers, in 2002.
In the call, Udstuen, secretly working undercover with federal authorities, made a vague reference to Ryan's alleged kickback scheme with two other trusted friends and said, "I've got to get my story straight, George."
Calling the tape-recording among the defense's most important pieces of evidence, Ryan's lead lawyer, Dan K. Webb, said government had sought to "nail" Ryan in wrongdoing, but "it backfired."
"George Ryan does not say anything [in the call] that incriminates himself at all," Webb said. "It tends to show he's innocent."
Assistant U.S. Atty. Patrick Collins disputed the defense's characterization of the tape, pointing out the conversation came "in the heat of the federal investigation."
"There's no denials in it," Collins said. "Mr. Ryan changed the conversation."
Pallmeyer indicated she would likely allow defense lawyers to bring out the details of the conversation in their cross-examinations of Udstuen, but she appeared inclined to bar Webb from referring to the tape in his opening remarks, though she held off ruling until reviewing court precedent.
On another key trial issue, Webb said he wants to question Fawell on his belief that the government exerted enormous pressure on him to cooperate, including a grueling 12-week trip from his South Dakota prison to Chicago for a brief courtroom appearance.
During the journey, Fawell was incarcerated in "awful conditions" in various prisons, including being held in isolation for a time in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., Webb said.
In a six-page letter, Fawell wrote he believed the 12-week trip was part of a government effort to pressure him to cooperate against Ryan, according to Webb. Webb said Fawell agreed to cooperate about one week after the ordeal.
Collins objected vociferously, saying federal prosecutors and investigators involved in the case had nothing to do with the trip and shouldn't be wrongly blamed before the jury
Pallmeyer expressed concerns too, but a decision was delayed.
The judge also delayed ruling on whether prosecutors could bring out at trial Fawell's claim that Ryan, while lieutenant governor, put Fawell on the state payroll while Fawell was working full-time on the 1988 presidential campaign of Vice President George H.W. Bush.
Ryan's lawyers objected because the alleged wrongdoing came two years before the scheme charged in the indictment against Ryan.
But Collins called the evidence important because it shows that the relationship between Ryan and Fawell, even from its beginning, "was built on defrauding taxpayers."
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Convictions in the Operation Safe Road probe
There have been 73 convictions, including former Gov. George Ryan's campaign committee. Ryan is among 78 defendants charged in the investigations.
SECRETARY OF STATE'S OFFICE CONVICTIONSCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Former high-ranking officials (Bauer, Fawell, Juliano) 3
License facility managers and supervisors 8
Road test examiners 8
Other current and former employees 7
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Owners or instructors: 10
Owners or employees 8
People not employed by the state or trucking company 11
Road test examiners in Florida 3
Citizens for Ryan re-election campaign group 1
Construction company owner, executives 3
Former legislator 1
Con man 1
Political insider 1
Private businessmen, lobbyist 4
Lobbying firm 1
CONVICTIONS BY YEAR
*Two individuals convicted twice in separate charges
Sources: U.S. state's attorney's office, Tribune reports
On the Web For the latest on the trial, go to chicagotribune.com.