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.
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.