- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CHICAGO (AP) — Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s fate was in the hands of jurors Wednesday as they prepared to begin deciding whether Mr. Blagojevich tried to sell an appointment to President Obama’s former Senate seat and schemed to use his political power for personal gain.

Jurors, weighing evidence against the second Illinois governor in a row to be charged with corruption in office, first received lengthy instructions from Judge James B. Zagel on how their deliberations should be conducted —including one instruction that they are not to consider the fact that Mr. Blagojevich did not testify.

“I’m not expecting” a speedy verdict, Judge Zagel said earlier.

One critical instruction he gave was that jurors could make “reasonable inferences.” That is important because prosecutors said in their closing arguments that Mr. Blagojevich did not point-blank demand money in exchange for something but implied it.

During the seven weeks of testimony, jurors heard evidence that ranged from a hospital administrator saying he believed Mr. Blagojevich was threatening to withhold state money unless he ponied up a campaign contribution to a former deputy governor recounting how Mr. Blagojevich hid in the bathroom to avoid state business.

Prosecutors portrayed him as a greedy, smart political schemer determined to use his power to enrich himself, while his attorney characterized him as an insecure bumbler who talked too much and had terrible judgment about whom to trust.

Mr. Blagojevich said loudly and often that he planned to testify, but said he decided on the advice of his lawyers not to. They said the government hadn’t proved its case. That decision shortened the trial considerably.

Jurors and the alternates, for the first time in weeks without note pads, sat with their eyes on the gray-haired Judge Zagel. Mr. Blagojevich also watched the judge, only occasionally glancing over at jurors. His wife, Patti, sitting a few feet to his left, appeared to scan the faces of jurors.

Mr. Blagojevich was smiling earlier as he and his wife walked past reporters waiting outside court, and noted there were few people watching his arrival. “Where is everybody?” he asked. During the trial, Mr. Blagojevich sometimes would plunge into the waiting crowds to shake hands and sign autographs.

Before court began, an elderly woman told Mr. Blagojevich she was praying for him. He put his hand over his heart and thanked her.

Mr. Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to 24 counts, including trying to sell or trade an appointment to Mr. Obama’s vacated Senate seat for a Cabinet post, private job or campaign cash. If convicted, he could face up to $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, though he is sure to get much less time under federal guidelines.

His brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54, also has pleaded not guilty to taking part in that alleged scheme.

Much of the prosecution’s evidence rested on wiretapped conversations. Judge Zagel warned jurors that they could not consider their personal feelings about wiretaps and stressed that the FBI acted legally. He said he would provide the jury with transcripts of calls as well as the recordings of phone calls and equipment to listen to them.

The judge also reminded jurors that some prosecution witnesses received immunity in exchange for their testimony and that their comments can be considered, but “with great care.” Similarly, he said other witnesses against Mr. Blagojevich pleaded guilty to charges and got benefits from the government, included a reduced sentence. Judge Zagel said they could consider their testimony but, again, “with caution and care.”

The judge also told jurors not to guess about how a person would be punished, that it was the judge’s job to sentence a defendant.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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