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11/13/2009

Echoes Of Our Past

    Some observations about the Jeanine Nicarico murder case, former DuPage County State's Attorney Jim Ryan's role in it and Ryan's apology this week:

     The 10-year-old victim was kidnapped, raped and killed on February 25, 1983 fueling outrage in DuPage County, which back then included more cornfields than subdivisions and strip malls.   The initial "investigation" continued for the next 13 months until March of 1984 when innocents Rolando Cruz, Alejandro Hernandez and Steven Buckley were indicted.  Cruz and Hernandez were tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 1985, while Jim Ryan's prosecutors discounted the confession of the real killer Brian Dugan.  While the charges against Buckley eventually were dropped, the two Latinos would spend more than a decade on death row for a crime they did not commit.

1980's Racial Politics

   The horrific crime happened only three days after Harold Washington won Chicago's 1983 democratic primary, eventually to become the city's first African American Mayor.  Remember "Council Wars" and how racism became the new rage in the region?  As the Nicarico case unfolded, overwhelmingly white DuPage Countians were reading, hearing and watching the developments in one of the most racially-charged political environments in local history.  There were very few blacks living in DuPage during the early to mid-1980's, but the Latino community there and throughout the area took great offense at Ryan's prosecutors' relentless efforts to convict Cruz and Hernandez while ignoring the confession of Dugan, who is white.

  Meanwhile, the "Reagan Revolution" was in full swing.   Republican Jim Ryan, elected DuPage's new state's attorney in 1984, was the poster boy for the local movement's "law and order" component.   To be fair, he actually inherited the flawed investigation from his predecessor who supervised and approved most of the work product that led to the the cases against Cruz and Hernandez.

  Was it racism, political ambition, incompetence or a combination that pressured Ryan not to call off his prosecutorial dogs?   As State's Attorney, he spent ten years until his election as Illinois Attorney General in 1994, trying to fit a square peg into a round hole as he publicly stated his belief time and again that Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez were guilty and deserved to be executed.  Even during his failed campaign for governor in 2002, after Cruz and Hernandez had been exonerated by the justice system and freed, he did not apologize for the erroneous prosecutions. 

Fast Forward

  The 63 year old Ryan is running for governor again after spending the last seven years teaching political science at Benedictine University.  On November 12th, the day after Dugan was finally sentenced to death for the Nicarico murder, Ryan e-mailed the apology for his role in the injustices committed against Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez.  In a one-on-one interview with me shortly after he announced his candidacy, he told me he is wiser after the experiences of the past 25 years.   Those experiences include not only the mistakes in the Nicarico case but also more personal tragedies than most of us will ever endure.  Ryan is a cancer survivor, he and his wife Marie have suffered the losses of two children (one by illness, another by suicide) and Marie's near-fatal heart attack.

  Ryan wants Illinois voters to consider his apology as evidence that he is a changed man who now realizes that politics do not define an officeholder's success as a human being.   He claims to have a better, fairer sense of right and wrong.   And even more stunning, the former unyielding, "lock 'em up and throw away the key" prosecutor also says if elected governor, he will NOT lift the state's moratorium on the death penalty until after more reforms of the rules governing the use of capital punishment. 

  Jim Ryan is apparently tired of running from his past.  He's finally turned and confronted it.

  

Comments

You have got to be kidding me. Jim Ryan is a dirt ball and deserves to be in jail. He knew and was told by the Illinois state police in no uncertain terms " You've got the wrong guy" For 20 plus years he's never apologized and now all of a sudden he's a changed man. Bull, the only reason he's a "changed man" is he's wants to be governor. That's the whole reason he never admitted his lie. Let me repeat. JIM RYAN KNEW CRUZ WAS INNOCENT FROM ALMOST THE VERY BEGINNING of this case. The supreme court ruled and I quote " JIM RYAN KNOWINGLY DENIED ROLANDO CRUZ A FAIR TRIAL" This case cost the tax payer's of DuPage county 3.5 million paid to Cruz directly and not to mention all of the court costs associated with the bogus trials.

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