updated 8/12/2006 11:07:12 PM ET 2006-08-13T03:07:12

Former Gov. George Ryan must explain in court why he pardoned four death row inmates who are now suing a group of Chicago police officers.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown ordered Ryan to sit for depositions before Sept. 30.

Ryan, who used his pardon and commutation powers to empty death row before he left office in 2003, objected to the subpoena and claimed “executive privilege.”

Brown noted in her ruling Thursday that Ryan discussed the pardons during an appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” with three of the plaintiffs.

“Having voluntarily agreed to respond publicly to questions from a talk show host on the basis for his decision ... Ryan cannot now claim a privilege to refuse to give testimony in a civil case on that same topic,” Brown wrote.

Brown also ordered Ryan to turn over any documents he used in reaching his decision, and said the Illinois Prisoner Review Board must give the police officers’ attorneys the formal recommendations it made to Ryan before he pardoned the men in 2003.

The four pardoned men claim police Lt. Jon Burge and investigators under his command tortured them into false confessions. They argue the pardons show they were innocent.

A report released by special prosecutors last month said Burge led a group of officers that used beatings, electric shocks and other methods to get suspects, most of them black, to confess in the 1970s and 1980s. The prosecutors said Burge and the others could not be charged because the statute of limitations had run out.

Ryan was convicted on unrelated federal racketeering charges in April.

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