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Blagojevich jurors react to his prison sentence

Updated: December 7, 2011 9:56PM

The judge nailed it, said jurors who heard the evidence against ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich and had to come back to witness his sentencing for themselves.

Not only was the 14-year prison term appropriate to punish the former governor who abused the public trust, but the reasoning U.S. District Judge James Zagel used in coming up with the punishment answered a lot of questions, said Connie Wilson, the forewoman of Blagojevich’s 2011 retrial.

“It was just refreshing to know that things going through his head were things we had talked about in deliberation and things we could not discount,” she said from the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago after attending Blagojevich’s sentencing hearing Wednesday.

The Naperville resident returned to face the cameras for a simple reason:

“I’m fed up.”

“How many times do we want to get out of jury duty? The first thing you think of is ‘How do you get out of it?’ We need smart juries. And we had a good, smart jury.”

John McParland, a New England native, didn’t believe Blagojevich when he told the jury in the second trial that he loves Boston, and he didn’t find the ex-governor sincere Wednesday either.

McParland, of Villa Park said he was pleased to hear Blagojevich’s apologies, “but hopefully they’re true.

“It’s hard to read him. He’s like two different men. He’s giving you different versions all over again,” he said.

James Matsumoto, foreman at the first trial in 2010 that ended in a mistrial save for one guilty verdict, also questioned Blagojevich’s sincerity.

“His apology was a little circumspect, more like a politician would apologize or a lawyer,” he said.

“Judge Zagel had probably the best statement that I heard in that courtroom for the trial. What he said was a vindication for everyone of us that thought (Blagojevich) was guilty and did commit the crimes he was charged of.

“So I have to give my appreciation to the judge for that vindication for us.”

Jesse Blue, 74, a retired postal worker who served on the jury with Matsumoto, was at a Bible study session when he learned of the sentence thanks to a text on a friend’s phone.

“It was surprising to me. I think 14 years is kind of harsh. I feel sad for his family,” Blue said, standing outside his Matteson home Wednesday.

Blue said because Blagojevich didn’t physically harm anyone and didn’t take any money, his sentence should have been shorter.

“I thought he should have got the same (sentence) that Gov. Ryan got — six or seven years. That would have been fair,” Blue said.

Blue does not expect Illinois’ sorry reputation of political corruption to be effected by Blagojevich’s stiff sentence.

“After all, what is this, the third (governor) to go down in disgrace? It doesn’t seem to change anything,” he said.

Kimberly Spaetti of Winthrop Harbor, who served on the second Blagojevich jury,, elected not to attend the sentencing in person but kept a close eye on the proceedings. She said she agreed with Zagel’s sentence.

“I thought it was a good amount of time. I was not surprised after seeing what (Tony) Rezko’s sentence was,” Spaetti said. “I was expecting about 15 years.”

Spaetti learned about Rezko’s 10-1/2 year sentencing for his kickback scheme through the news. Before serving as a juror, she had paid scant attention to Illinois politics. Now she said she pays close attention, especially to this week’s sentencing, though she decided not to attend.

“I thought it would be uncomfortable in person with his children. It was uncomfortable being there on the day of the verdict,” she said.

She was at work during the sentencing hearings. She works in sales for a food company with a small staff, and said it was at her behest that jurors got Fridays off to go to work during the trial.

Spaetti, who had never served on a jury before. expressed confidence in the verdict the jury reached and with Zagel’s sentence.

“I think I’m happy with Zagel’s decision,” she said.

Maribel DeLeon, of West Dundee, did not attend Wednesday’s sentencing, saying she “just felt I did not want to be a part of it.”

“I did my duty,” she said.

She called the 14-year sentence “too harsh,” but she thought Zagel was sending a message about public corruption.

“I definitely understand it,” she said. “It was a huge message, like saying, ‘You can’t keep playing these games.’”

Contributing: Steve Metsch, Beth Kramer, Steve Lord

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