Juror: As a Blagojevich fan, decision to convict was ‘heartbreaking’
By Dan Rozek Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org June 28, 2011 2:38PM
Maribel DeLeon jury member in the 2nd federal corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich, on the day after he was found guilty on most counts. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: June 28, 2011 6:07PM
Juror Maribel DeLeon voted for Rod Blagojevich, liked him and thought he had been a good governor.
But the 45-year-old DeLeon still voted to convict the ex-governor of 17 corruption charges that likely will send him to federal prison for years.
“There was so much evidence against him,” said DeLeon, a West Dundee mother of three children who was amazed when she was chosen to sit on the Blagojevich jury.
She described her decision as “heartbreaking,” particularly after Blagojevich’s frequent mentions on the witness stand of his love for his wife and two daughters.
“It was very hard. I really did not want to say ‘guilty,’” she said of the deliberations, which ultimately left her upset at Blagojevich for repeatedly breaking the law — forcing her to vote to convict him.
“You can’t believe how many times I said ‘Gosh darn you, Rod, I can’t believe you did it again,’” DeLeon said. “Because I was so mad at him for doing that. I thought he was a good governor, as far as I saw what he was doing for the people.”
She said Blagojevich’s own words secretly recorded by investigators were critical in persuading her that Blagojevich tried to extort campaign cash and was looking to personally benefit by trading President Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.
“The tapes were very convincing,” DeLeon said.
Blagojevich’s own trial testimony did little to sway her views, she said.
“His answers weren’t consistent,” she said. “There was many times it was clear he lied.”
She believed Blagojevich when he insisted that horse-trading and seeking campaign contributions were part of the political process, but also said it was clear from the evidence that he took those actions too far.
“It’s such a fine line,” she said. “He pushed it, and he got busted.”
Deliberations took nearly 10 days because jurors worked hard to keep their personal feelings about Blagojevich out of their discussions.
“We really followed the letter of the law,” DeLeon said. “We kept going back to that, we were like ‘this is exactly what it says, this is what we’re going to do.’ That’s why it took so long.”
Jurors broke down each of the 20 criminal counts against Blagojevich, voting separately on each element of the charge to determine if there was a consensus.
“For every single count, there was many votes,” she said.
Once the jurors had reached an agreement, there was no looking back, DeLeon recalled.
“We went through each of the crimes and we went through each of the counts. So when we were finished with the count, we were done,” she said. “Once it was put to bed, it was done.”
Some of Blagojevich’s notorious comments recorded on the tapes were “disturbing,” DeLeon said, including one in which he noted his shrinking support among Illinois residents and dismissed it with a curt “f--- ‘em.”
Those comments didn’t factor into her determination that he was guilty, she said.
“It was about the crime, about the facts,” she said.
DeLeon, who paid little attention to Blagojevich’s first trial, said her inside look at the way he ran the governor’s office hasn’t soured her generally upbeat assessment of politics.
“I believe there’s a lot of good politicians out there, and they’re out there to help the people. 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,” she said.
DeLeon had been laid off from her job as a sales manager for a manufacturing company barely a month before the trial began.
She had little time to look for a new job once the trial began, juggling a two-hour commute each way into Chicago with caring for her children.
Her husband, Pete, works an overnight shift so they rarely saw each other during the week, DeLeon said.
She typically would leave her home by 6:15 a.m. daily, dropping off her 4-year-old son with her mother or mother-in-law in other suburbs. Then she’d take a Metra train downtown to the federal courthouse. Her 13-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter then would have to get themselves off to school.
She usually didn’t arrive home until at least 7 p.m. — after her husband had left for his job.
“It was a long day,” she said of her typical routine.
She often asked friends or neighbors to drive her children to school events, sports practices and band concerts.
Still, DeLeon said serving on the jury — her first time as a juror — was worthwhile.
“This was a wonderful experience,” DeLeon said. “I appreciate the opportunity that I was able to have in understanding the law and government and politics in general. I have no regrets about doing this.”
With the trial over, she wants to spend time with her family, catch up on her gardening and look for work.
“I have to find a job now,” she said.