UNTIL I COULD BE SURE: HOW I STOPPED THE DEATH PENALTY IN ILLINOIS (forthcoming September 2020, with former Illinois Gov. George Ryan)

until i could be sure In January 2000, Illinois Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions—the first such action by any governor in the history of the United States.

Despite a long history as a death penalty proponent, Ryan was emotionally moved after allowing an execution in 1999. He was also profoundly disturbed by the state’s history—12 men had been executed and 13 had been exonerated since the return of the death penalty in Illinois in 1977. More had been proven innocent than had been executed.

Three years later, in 2003, Ryan pardoned four death row inmates based on their actual innocence and then commuted the death sentences of 167 men and women. This was the largest death row commutation in U.S. history. At that time, 12 states and the District of Columbia barred the death penalty. His actions breathed new life into the movement to abolish the death penalty in the United States. Over the next 15 years, Illinois and seven other states would abolish the death penalty—New Jersey, Maryland, New Mexico, Connecticut, Delaware, New York and Washington.

Today, the push to reform the criminal justice system has never been stronger in America, a nation that incarcerates more men and women than any other country in the world and also wrongfully convicts hundreds of men and women. Although the number of executions carried out every year continues to drop in the U.S., the death penalty still exists in 31 states. Moreover, in some non-death penalty states, factions seek to reinstate it.

Until I Could Be Sure: How I Stopped the Death Penalty in Illinois is, in his own words, the story of George Ryan’s journey from death penalty proponent to death penalty opponent. His story continues to resonate today. He defied the political winds and endured the fury and agony of the families of the victims and the condemned as well as politicians, prosecutors and law enforcement. It is a story of courage and faith. It is a timely reminder of the heroic acts of a Republican Governor who was moved by conscience, his faith and a disturbing factual record of death row exonerations.

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A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist teams up with a university scholar in this compelling, untold historical tale of a young man’s courage at a critical time in United States history, and the saga of a dictator’s pistol that continues today.

The time is World War II. Young soldier Ira “Teen” Palm and his men burst into a Munich apartment, hoping to capture Adolph Hitler. Instead, they find an empty apartment … and a golden gun. As the authors trace the story of the man and the gun, they examine a time and place that shaped men like Palm and transformed them into heroes. They also follow the strange journey of Hitler’s pistol.

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On the night of January 8, 1993, seven helpless employees of a Brown’s Chicken and Pasta restaurant in Illinois were herded into coolers and systematically assassinated with a .38-caliber revolver.

After carefully erasing all the evidence, two assailants fled with $1,800 in cash. The savagery of the crime stunned and haunted the quiet town of Palatine. Embroiled in notoriety and controversy, multiple lawsuits, false suspects, and dead-end leads, the slayings would go unsolved for nearly a decade. But the “perfect crime” was tripped up by damning evidence the killers never even knew they left behind. In 1999, a breakthrough in the forensic science of DNA testing finally gave authorities the key to unlocking the mystery behind one of the worst mass murders in Illinois history.


From Publisher’s Weekly review:

This meat-and-potatoes tale of murder, memory and the Mafia explores facets of Chicago that tourists never see as it delves into a case in which a man is tried twice for the same crime. Veteran Chicago Tribune journalists Possley and Kogan focus on two lives that collided in 1972: Bob Lowe went out to walk his dog and, on the way, witnessed Harry Aleman execute Lowe’s neighbor, Billy Logan. Lowe was a quick-tempered blue-collar father; Aleman an ambitious hit man for the Chicago “Outfit” (and nephew of its then-chief, Joseph Ferriola). Aleman was getting back at Logan for harassing his ex-wife, Aleman’s cousin, regarding their children. Lowe picked out Aleman’s mug shot, but the cops “lost” his ID. Four years later, with local law enforcement embarrassed by a spate of two dozen unsolved Mafia murders, a state’s attorney task force indicted Aleman for Logan’s murder. Against his father’s advice, Lowe testified, only to see Aleman acquitted in a bench trial. This unmoored the already unsteady and disillusioned Lowe; he drifted into substance abuse and petty crime, which resulted in two years in prison. Lowe eventually dried out and reunited with his family, and was jolted when in 1993 he was once again called upon to testify against Aleman, after revelations surfaced about the earlier trial (mobsters paid the judge a $10,000 bribe). Aleman was sentenced in 1997 to 100 years, despite entreaties by family and neighbors, who called Aleman (believed responsible for numerous hits) “a good man… a wonderful, wonderful dear friend.” Possley and Kogan’s assured, workmanlike narrative offers a dark portrait of how the discretion of Chicago’s organized criminals had resulted, by the 1990s, in long-term corruption of police and judges, and many unsolved gangland slayings. This is a thought-provoking tale of urban malfeasance and delayed justice.

Everybody Pays has twice been optioned by producers and directors for development as a feature film. From 2000-2003, the film rights were owned by Director Harold Ramis and his Ocean Pictures, for development at Warner Bros. From 2008-2010 the rights were owned by Producer Beth O’Neil at Olfactory Productions (with director Neil Tolkin attached.) The film rights for Everybody Pays are currently available for optioning. Inquiries should be made to Maurice’s film agent, Steve Fisher at

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