Foreman said Blagojevich jury avoided secret votes
By Lark Turner Staff Reporter email@example.com June 28, 2011 11:48AM
The jury foreman speaks out on the trial, along with her fellow jurors, following a guilty verdict on former Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Monday. | Antonio Perez/AP
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Updated: June 28, 2011 6:06PM
Connie Wilson, 56, didn’t want to be the foreman.
But the Naperville woman known during the trial only as Juror 146 said Tuesday she and her fellow jurors worked tirelessly in 10 days of deliberations to look over every piece of evidence on their way to a verdict: 17 convictions against former governor Rod Blagojevich, now guilty of fraud, corruption and extortion.
The mother of two daughters ages 25 and 29 received her call to jury duty one week before retiring from her job as a choral director at Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Naperville. After getting placed on the jury, Wilson gave up her hope of having a few days off. She tried to keep up with her garden and the news, though her husband and daughters cut out Blagojevich articles from the three papers the family receives every day and kicked her out of the room when the trial came on TV.
It was difficult to balance with friends, too, who didn’t know she was serving on the trial.
“Because it’s such a high profile case, that would come up in conversation,” she said, laughing as she remembered her difficulties at dinner parties. “You’d have to like, excuse yourself and go to the restroom.”
With Wilson at the helm, the meticulous jurors used a teacher-recommended voting process called “fist to five,” gesturing with their hands to vote. In fact, Wilson said, the only time the jury used a secret ballot was during their vote for foreman. She was the only juror who had served on a jury before.
“I never raised my hand to volunteer,” she said, adding she still has mixed feelings about being chosen and believes many of her fellow jurors could have served well as foreman. “Somebody mentioned my name and I could have kicked her under the table! I didn’t, but I thought about it.”
Secret ballots don’t show where people truly are, Wilson said, so the jurors resorted to what they called the “fist to five” method. If a juror’s fist was closed, Blagojevich was not guilty. If the juror showed five fingers, he was guilty.
“And then you have everything in between,” Wilson explained. “That led us to see openly people’s opinions of where they were in the process.”
That process was important to how the jury, made up of 11 women and one man Wilson referred to as “our gentleman,” made its decisions, she said. They originally didn’t agree and had to keep voting to reach a verdict, though they couldn’t decide on two of the charges against the ex-gov. She said she was surprised by how people voted; the jury didn’t divide themselves into camps, but voted differently on each charge depending on the evidence on that charge.
Wilson said the gender divide didn’t matter in the jury’s deliberations, though there was one day in the cafeteria at Dirksen Federal Courthouse when they discussed it. “We don’t look like that jury!” Wilson said they realized, acknowledging the rarity of such a marked gender divide.
“Some of the women actually said, I’m sure we’re going to be characterized as the typical woman who talks ad nauseum, and you know, it really wasn’t that way,” she said. “Everybody was very much trying to find ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and that’s what everything’s based on and we would go back to that premise very often.”
The quiet jury surprised the court marshals who supervised it and even U.S. District Judge James Zagel, Wilson said.
“Judge Zagel said at one point, ‘I wasn’t sure you were still in there!’” she said, laughing. “Now, to have that many women in a room and be that quiet was pretty amazing.”
They strayed away from talking politics during their time off, Wilson said. Though she wouldn’t say whether or not she cast her vote for Blagojevich as governor, she said she often votes independent and said pervasive corruption in Illinois, and Blagojevich’s actions, leave her simply sad.
The “veil of corruption” in Illinois is one of the reasons the state struggles with solving problems, she said.
“You end up having two former governors in jail, that doesn’t say too much about the state,” Wilson said, shaking her head.
As for Blagojevich’s time spent on the stand over parts of seven days, Wilson said she realized he was trying to connect with jurors, who talked about it during deliberations. When one questioned Blagojevich’s personal testimony and discussion of everything from his childhood to his library, she said she realized what the ex-politician was up to.
“I said, ‘Do you remember what he talked about in the library?’ He pointed to something in the library that pertained to almost everybody on the jury,” Wilson explained.
She said Blagojevich mentioned books, targeting a librarian; pointed out an interest in music, directing it toward her; and discussed the importance of education, to connect with the teacher.
“He even brought out at one point something about Boston, and of course our gentleman was a huge Boston fan,” she laughed, remembering that juror’s many Boston-themed T-shirts.
Still, in the end, Blagojevich’s guilt was simply “overwhelming,” she said, echoing what her fellow jurors told reporters in a news conference after Monday’s verdict.
The jury “just couldn’t ignore that,” she said.