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Jurors suspect Rod Blagojevich was tailoring testimony to them

Patti Rod Blagojevich leave Dirksen Federal Court after guilty verdict 17 charges Monday June 27 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Patti and Rod Blagojevich leave Dirksen Federal Court after a guilty verdict on 17 charges, Monday, June 27, 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 4, 2011 12:35AM



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

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

What changed?

Rod Blagojevich took the witness stand in his retrial. And the 11 women and one man on the former governor’s jury not only didn’t buy what he said — they thought he was in full spin mode.

Jury forewoman Connie Wilson, 56, of Naperville, said she thought 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 before testimony began, she said.

“I said, ‘Do you remember what he talked about . . . [while testifying about his home] library?’ ” Wilson said she told other 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, the former choral director at Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Naperville; 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 said with a laugh, 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 politician’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 in an interview.

The target-your-audience strategy may work with voters in politics, but it didn’t fly with this group.

It made juror Karen Woj­cieszak, 64, of Tinley Park, downright angry.

“We had heard seven days of Mr. Blagojevich’s ‘blah, blah, blah,’ ” Wojcieszak said. “I don’t care if he grew up poor on the North Side of immigrant parents. We’re all immigrants unless you’re a Native American.

“He really cheated the people of Illinois, or tried to,” she continued. “He took an oath to do what was best for the people of Illinois and he didn’t do it. So we’ll have another governor in jail.”

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

“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 Hyde Park. “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. 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 investigators were critical in convincing her that Blagojevich tried to extort campaign cash and was looking to personally benefit by trading President Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat.

“The tapes were very convincing,” DeLeon said.

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.”

“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.

Jessica Hubinek, of Carol Stream, said about 3 p.m. Thursday, on their ninth day of deliberations, she and her fellow jurors had decided: He was guilty of 17 of the 20 counts.

And in the careful, deliberate way they had discussed, reviewed and analyzed the evidence, they wanted to sleep on it and send their final decision to the judge Monday morning, said Hubinek, a 32-year-old librarian and married mother of a teenager.

Rosemary Bennett, 73, of Aurora, said the morning of the verdict she did something she did every morning before that.

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

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

Karin Wilson, 48, of Palatine, wouldn’t say whether she voted for Blagojevich in his gubernatorial elections. But this summer, while hanging out with her daughter and 18-year-old son, she’s eager to read about Blagojevich’s first trial, which ended in a hung jury, and find answers to a few questions she wondered about during the second.

“It was the most interesting thing I’ve ever done,” Wilson said. “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 bunch of other big news, too. A colleague asked her late in April if she watched the wedding?

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

Contributing: Mitch Dudek, Dan Rozek, Erika Wurst



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