Ronald Joseph Ryan was hanged in Melbourne on 3 February 1967, following his conviction for the shooting murder of a prison warder during a daring escape from the maximum-security Pentridge prison thirteen months before.
The decision of the Victorian government in December 1966 to proceed with Ryan’s death sentence sparked immediate media condemnation and angry political protests, and put the Liberal premier, Sir Henry Bolte, under siege for the duration of the case.
State governments around the country moved to abolish the death penalty in the 1970s and 1980s, and Ronald Ryan became the last man to be hanged in Australia. Today, many years later, the Ryan case still prompts spirited debate about the guilty finding against Ryan, the merits of capital punishment, and the politics behind his execution.
But who was Ronald Ryan, and how did he come to be the focus of such dramatic political events? Drawing on previously unpublished documents and personal accounts — including details of Ryan’s childhood and his early turn to crime — this book reveals the truth about Ryan’s guilt. It also goes behind the scenes to tell for the first time of the life-long anguish of the judge who pronounced the death sentence, the inner workings of the secret cabinet meeting that decided Ryan’s fate, and the dramatic political process that resulted in the rejection of eleventh-hour appeals to save Ryan.
Mike Richards first became involved in the case as the leader of student protests against Ryan’s execution. Now he has written a masterly, compelling account that retrieves the individual and the drama at the centre of the most divisive capital case in Australia’s history. Through the depth of its original research and the persuasiveness of its insights, Mike Richards’ award-winning biography of Ronald Ryan provides a definitive account of the life and death of the man whose execution stopped a nation.