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Blagojevich defense  in Hail Mary mode

Updated: January 8, 2012 10:33AM

Rod Blagojevich did not bring his two young daughters physically to court Tuesday for his sentencing hearing, and for that we can be grateful.

But the former governor brought them in spirit, his lawyers invoking them at every opportunity in a plea for mercy — from a wiretap recorded call with Mommy and Daddy to an impassioned letter from the oldest.

In fact, after enduring a daylong presentation from Blagojevich’s lawyers — which unfortunately delayed until Wednesday an expected address from Blagojevich himself — one would have to conclude the daughters may be the only thing standing between their father and a very long prison sentence.

“Take into account the impact that his absence will have on such a tight-knit family,” defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein argued. “He doesn’t deserve mercy because he has a family. What I submit your honor is that his family deserves mercy.”

As you might imagine, this is the courtroom equivalent of a football Hail Mary pass, which seems only slightly less far-fetched after last week’s Chiefs game yet also somehow fitting after watching a defense team that a quicker wit than mine thought resembled the Bears offense. In other words, plodding, meandering and mostly pointless.

To be fair, it’s not as if they have a lot with which to work.

Under federal sentencing guidelines applicable to his case, Blagojevich would be facing 30 years to life, U.S. District Judge James Zagel ruled Tuesday.

Fortunately for Blagojevich, Zagel also declared he won’t be using the guidelines because any sentence in that range would be too high and “simply not appropriate in the context of the case.”

That creates an interesting situation in that we don’t really know what Zagel will use as a starting point for setting a sentence when the hearing resumes — and presumably concludes — Wednesday.

Often, a federal judge will begin with the guideline range, then work up or down from there to help justify the sentence they think most appropriate.

My impression, though, after listening to Zagel’s comments and questions is that it’s much more likely that he will land closer to the 15- to 20-year prison sentence sought by federal prosecutors than to the lowest sentence legally possible requested by the defense.

Settling on anything shorter would require Zagel either buying into the defense arguments that Blagojevich is so close to his daughters that his prolonged absence would work an “extraordinary” hardship on his family or that his crimes weren’t really of the serious nature that resulted in long sentences for other corrupt public officials.

I don’t see Zagel going there.

While waiting for his hearing, Blagojevich sat at the defense table studying a handwritten document on what looked to be lined notebook paper.

I could only assume it was the address the computer-averse former governor had prepared to deliver to Zagel. He looked pensive.

It was evident Blagojevich had spent some quality time with his blow dryer and brush before court, his bangs protruding a good three inches from his forehead in a perfect wave.

While he’s peering into that mirror again this morning, he might want to see if he can find a little more contrition to pack into that speech to the judge.

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