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‘Stunned’ Blagojevich found guilty on 17 counts

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Updated: June 28, 2011 11:52AM



The former Illinois governor who once talked so much — on secret tapes, in the media, and ultimately on the witness stand — now had to listen to a federal jury.

What Rod Blagojevich heard on Monday left him nearly speechless.

On its 10th day of deliberations, a jury of 11 women and one man overwhelmingly convicted Blagojevich in his second trial, voting him guilty on 17 of 20 counts. The ex-governor was convicted on every count having to do with the sale of President Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat as well as on charges he shook down the CEO of a children’s hospital and an Illinois racetrack executive.

It was a monumental fall for the man who thought he could beat it all.

And for once, Blagojevich had little to say.

“Among the many lessons that I’ve learned from this whole experience is to try to speak a little bit less,” Blagojevich told reporters after court, his wife, Patti, at his side. “Patti and I obviously are very disappointed in the outcome. I, frankly, am stunned.”

In the courtroom, Patti began to cry even before the verdict was read. After the jury left, she stood up and buried her head in her husband’s shoulder as he rubbed her back.

Jurors who watched him testify for parts of seven days said they found him likable but ultimately, not believable.

“At times I felt it was manipulative,” said Juror 140, an elementary school teacher, of Blagojevich’s testimony. “I would rather have heard just the facts.”

Maribel DeLeon, a juror who often smiled at the ex-governor during his testimony, said she wanted to side with Blagojevich.

The evidence, though, did not side with him.

“I’d come in thinking, ‘OK, he’s not guilty,’ and then all of a sudden I’m like, Gosh darn you, Rod! You did it again!” said DeLeon, the mother of three. “He proved himself guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. He kept saying ‘Do it.’ ‘Push it.’ ‘Get it done.’ That’s where he crossed the line.”

Law enforcement officials said that is where the importance of the secret FBI wiretaps came in.

“A famous artist once said Lady Justice is blind, but she has very sophisticated listening devices,” said Chicago’s FBI Special-Agent-in-Charge Rob Grant. “There is no better evidence you can present to a jury than their own words in their own voice.”

While jurors in the first trial, who were deadlocked on 23 of 24 counts, said the case lacked a smoking gun, this jury said the secret tapes amounted to overwhelming evidence.

That included the infamous recording where Blagojevich is heard describing the Senate seat appointment as “f------ golden.”

But jurors made clear it was the totality of the tapes that spelled Blagojevich’s doom.

“There were a lot of quotes that supported our verdict,” said Juror 179, a woman who does social networking for a library.

Jury foreperson Connie Wilson, who lives in Naperville and is a retired choral director at a parish with about 3,700 families, said the deliberations were even-tempered.

“We feel very confident we have reached a fair and just verdict,” Wilson said.

Another juror said Blagojevich’s personality, on display when he testified in his own defense, made it more difficult to convict him.

“I think because he was personable, it made it a bit hard to separate that from what we actually had to do as jurors,” said Juror 103, a photographer and bartender. “We had to put aside whether we liked him or didn’t like him and just go by the evidence presented to us.”

The long deliberations had given Blagojevich hope he was headed for another mistrial, those close to him say. Blagojevich’s lawyers did not speak after court but were later spotted carrying coffee into the former governor’s Ravenswood Manor home.

Media helicopters had followed Blagojevich overhead to court and then back home.

Earlier in the day, leaving his home, Blagojevich said the decision was “in God’s hands.”

Then, as he often does, he quoted Elvis Presley.

“My hands are shaky. My knees are weak. And I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet,” he told reporters, quoting “I’m All Shook Up.”

Last summer, Blagojevich was convicted at his first trial of lying to the FBI, but that jury deadlocked on the 23 other charges he then faced. That charge alone could land him in prison for five years.

In all, Blagojevich faces a maximum prison sentence that adds up to 300 years, though legal experts predicted that Zagel will impose a sentence closer to 10 years.Calling it a “bittersweet moment,” U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald referred to the conviction five years ago of another former governor — George Ryan — who still serves a 6

½ -year sentence.

“Five years ago, another jury sent a message that corruption was not tolerable in Illinois politics. Gov. Blagojevich did not get that message. I hope that message is heard this time,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald bristled at the defense’s contention that Blagojevich had been engaging in politics as usual when he was discussing the Senate seat sale on tape.

“That’s not politics as usual,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s a crime.”

The jury’s decision came after Blagojevich made his biggest legal gambit, testifying in his own defense, which he did not do in his first trial.

This time, Blagojevich was on the stand for parts of seven days. In sometimes indulgent, sometimes self-deprecating testimony, the impeached and ousted former governor repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and called himself an “effin’ jerk” for the foul language he used that was caught on secret FBI recordings.

He also said he consulted with advisers and his lawyer when talking about whom to appoint to the Senate seat and wasn’t making a deal to benefit himself. Blagojevich claimed he was close to crafting a deal involving the appointment of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat. He said he was arrested before the deal could happen.

Jurors said they rejected the Madigan deal because Blagojevich never called her or made any concrete attempts to make it happen.

In cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar quickly worked to attack Blagojevich’s credibility, asking: “You are a convicted liar, correct?”

That was a turning point for many jurors.

“That scared us all to death,” Juror 103 told reporters Monday, as others laughed and nodded in agreement. “We were so nervous after that little segment of the trial. We were unanimous on that. I think — because the trial up until then had not been very dramatic.”

Blagojevich admitted from the stand that a promised $1.5 million campaign contribution offered by supporters of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to name the Chicago Democrat to the Senate would have been “absolutely illegal.” But he would not agree that the offer was an attempted “bribe,’’ as Schar characterized it.

Blagojevich never got the proposed contribution. The FBI’s Grant said ultimately, Blagojevich was caught in unguarded moments on tape: “expressing his true desire, which was to personally profit from his public service.” “Perhaps the long national embarrassment of the State of Illinois over that last 2

½ years has finally come to a conclusion.”

Contributing: Stefano Esposito



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