Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan says Nelson Mandela was instrumental in his 2003 decision to empty death row.
Ryan addressed attendees gathered yesterday at the Chicago church of U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, who hosted a ``people's tribute'' to the late South African leader.
Ryan, a Republican, was released from prison earlier this year after serving more than five years on corruption charges. His roughly five-minute speech was one of his first public appearances since his release.
Ryan and Mandela met in 2000 on a trade mission to South Africa.
Ryan said yesterday to hearty applause that Mandela called him ahead of his decision to empty death row and it inspired him. Ryan drew international attention for emptying death row, which led to Illinois abolishing the death penalty in 2011.