Aurora juror: ‘I met some very, very nice people’
By Erika Wurst Sun-Times Media firstname.lastname@example.org June 28, 2011 3:04PM
Rosemary Bennett of Aurora was one of the jurors for the Rod Blagojevich trial on Tuesday June 28, 2011. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 28, 2011 3:14PM
The media spotlight turned Tuesday to the home of Rosemary Bennett on Aurora’s West Side.
The 73-year-old retiree was one of 12 jurors who found ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich guilty on 17 counts of fraud, corruption and extortion Monday — and the public was thirsty to know what the nine-week federal trial was like.
“It was a very, very interesting experience,” Bennett said, but admitted she’s relieved the trial has ended. “It took me completely outside my comfort zone.”
The retiree usually spends her free time reading stories to third graders at Hall Elementary School in Aurora, not inside a courtroom.
Still, Bennett, who worked at Reuland’s Food Service in Aurora for 20 years, said she knew she’d be a good candidate when she was called for jury duty on one of the state’s most monumental cases.
“I’m retired, and I’m alone, so there would be no extra hardship on me,” she said.
Besides not getting to spend as much time as she wanted with house guests who visited during the nine-week trial, Bennett didn’t miss out on much, she said. As part of her civic duty, the grandmother put life on hold to travel into Chicago every morning for the trial.
“Getting there was the biggest hassle,” she said. “But on my days home I could run errands and bake and be myself.”
Her kids were leery at first of their mother navigating the big city. She took the 7:22 a.m. train out of the Aurora Transportation Center every morning, and said she has found a new respect for commuters.
“That type of thing really isn’t my bag,” Bennett said.
But once she got the hang of it, her kids felt at ease and were excited about their mother’s jury service.
“They just thought it was a super experience for me to have.”
The federal trial was an entirely different experience from jury duty she once served in Kane County, where the case was “cut and dry,” she said.
“The hardest thing to do was put aside your own feelings (about Blagojevich) and judge on the evidence,” Bennett said.
When it came to keeping mum amid the media spotlight, Bennett said biting her tongue was difficult.
“Most people were pretty considerate. They knew I wasn’t supposed to talk about (the trial), and they respected that,” Bennett said.
She knew as soon as the verdict was read, however, all bets would be off.
Bennett said she was warned that Monday’s press conference after the verdict was handed down would not be the end of the media’s interest in her and other members of the jury. While some jurors were hesitant to talk to the press, Bennett said she felt it was part of her duty. She gladly sat down with a host of reporters on Tuesday to answer questions and give insight into what went on behind closed doors over the last couple months.
“I prayed every morning that the Lord would help each one of us jurors to base our decision of evidence and nothing else,” she said. “It’s easy to judge on preconceived notions.”
While she never voted for the ex-governor (“I tend to lean the other way,” she said), Bennett said that Blagojevich was a pleasant man.
“He is a very personable gentleman,” she said. “I didn’t know him at all before, besides through what the media has shown, but I can tell he likes people and likes to talk.”
That fact, she said, made it easy to relate to the larger-than-life politician.
Like the ex-governor, Bennett said the other 11 members of the jury (10 women and one man) were down-to-Earth. Although their ages ranged from 30 to 73, differences were put on hold as they banded together to do what Blagojevich’s first hung jury could not.
“We got along really well. There were a couple people that were hung (on a verdict), but both sides were very considerate of each other,” Bennett said.
When they couldn’t be there to celebrate in person, jurors would call each other’s loved ones on their birthdays, singing to them as a group from the deliberation room, she said. Bennett even had her own birthday while serving jury duty.
“We became the singing jury,” she said with a smile. “I met some very, very nice people.”