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They didn’t buy Blago’s story

MayMoody talks about her experience as juror Rod Blagojevich trial.  |  Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times

Maya Moody talks about her experience as a juror in the Rod Blagojevich trial. | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: October 30, 2011 12:22AM

Last year’s jury thought the government’s case against Rod Blagojevich lacked a smoking gun.

This year’s jury called the same evidence “overwhelming.”

What changed? Blagojevich took the witness stand in his retrial. And the 11 women and one man on its jury not only didn’t buy what he said, but thought he was in full “spin mode.”

Jury foreman Connie Wilson, 56, of Naperville, said she recognized what Blagojevich was up to when he started picking and choosing details from his personal history. The details appeared to mirror personal information that came out when the judge questioned the jury pool for the trial, she said.

“I said, ‘Do you remember what he talked about ... (while testifying about his home) library?’ ” Wilson said she asked jurors during their deliberations. “He pointed to something in the library that pertained to almost everybody on the jury.”

She said jurors started piecing it together.

Over his seven days of testimony, Blagojevich mentioned books, targeting a librarian on the jury; pointed out an interest in music, directing the comment toward Wilson, a former choral director; and discussed the importance of education to connect with a teacher, Wilson said.

“He even brought out at one point something about Boston, and of course our gentleman was a huge Boston fan,” she laughed, remembering the male juror’s many Boston-themed T-shirts.

That juror, John McParland, was the lone male in the group. He wasn’t having any of Blagojevich’s testimony. Particularly unconvincing, he said, was the former governor’s attempt to explain what he “meant” by comments caught on tape by the government.

“You’re talking in, like, two different languages then?” McParland said of Blagojevich.

Even though they believed he was lying, many of the jurors still liked Blagojevich.

“I almost feel like I’d want to apologize to him, but it’s not my fault, so why do I have those feelings?” said Maya Moody, of Chicago’s Hyde Park community. “Sometimes I think he was just surrounded by people that just didn’t have the heart to speak the truth to him. It’s either that or ... that’s just how the political machine in Illinois is, and he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. But either way it goes, you know, when you look at the law ... it was all illegal.”

Juror Maribel DeLeon, 45, of West Dundee, described her decision to convict as “heartbreaking,” particularly after Blagojevich, during his testimony, frequently mentioned his love for his wife and two daughters. But his testimony
did little to sway her views, she said.

“His answers weren’t consistent,” she said. “There (were) many times it was clear he lied.”

She said Blagojevich’s own words secretly recorded by federal agents were critical in convincing her that Blagojevich tried to extort campaign cash and was looking to personally benefit by trading President Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.

“I believe Rod was out there helping the people,” said DeLeon, who believes Blagojevich became “disgruntled” in office and started looking for a way out.

“Everything was a snowball effect, and he made poor choices.”

Jessica Hubinek, of Carol Stream, said that the jury agreed about 3 p.m. Thursday that Blagojevich was guilty of 17 of the 20 counts, but they wanted to sleep on it and send their final decision to the judge Monday morning.

While McParland said he feels for Blagojevich’s two daughters, he has little sympathy for Blagojevich.

“It’s hard to feel sorry about him,” he said, “because why are you doing this in the first place?”

Karin Wilson, 48, of Palatine, said she’s eager to read about Blagojevich’s first trial that ended in a hung jury last August and find answers to a few questions she wondered about during the second trial.

“It was the most interesting thing I’ve ever done,” Wilson said of serving on the jury. “And the most boring thing I’ve ever done.”

Because Hubinek took the judge’s orders to avoid the media so seriously, she missed a lot of big news. A colleague asked her late in April if she had watched the wedding.

“What wedding?” she said, unaware of Prince William’s royal extravaganza.

Many jurors said the disruption of their routines meant time away from loved ones. When they couldn’t celebrate a birthday in person, jurors would call each other’s loved ones on their birthdays, singing to them as a group from the deliberation room, Rosemary Bennett, 73, of Aurora, said. Bennett had her birthday while on jury duty.

“We became the singing jury,” she said with a smile. “I met some very, very nice people.”

Time on the jury also meant something else — weight gain. During their 10 days of deliberations, they ate lunch at Lou Malnati’s, Corner Bakery or Panera.

“There was lots of food to be had. Carbs. I’ve probably gained 10 pounds,” Moody said. “I just look forward to getting back to my regular routine.”

Contributing: Lark Turner

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