CHICAGO | Jury selection in the retrial of impeached Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich is taking “relatively long” because of the high-profile nature of the case and the fact that this is the second time around for the defendant, the judge said Wednesday.
Questioning of would-be jurors resumed for a fourth day, with U.S. District Judge James Zagel calling back some candidates to clarify their answers from previous interviews and bringing in those he didn’t get to the day before.
Judge Zagel had initially predicted a jury would be seated and opening statements would begin this week, but he now says openings likely won’t happen until next week as the jury process drags on.
“This is relatively long jury selection for federal court,” the judge said, though he told attorneys he once presided over an eight-week trial that had six weeks of jury selection.
The one-time Democratic governor’s first trial last summer ended with a mostly hung jury, with a single holdout juror preventing a conviction on several key counts. That outcome has emphasized just how vital jury selection is to both sides in Blagojevich’s retrial.
The first jury did find Blagojevich guilty of lying to the FBI. He still faces 20 charges, including allegations that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat in exchange for campaign cash or a job after he left office.
Blagojevich denies any wrongdoing.
Judge Zagel estimated that the jury pool has between 18 to 22 people left in it, far fewer than the 28 that prosecutors said they thought remained. Among the candidates remaining are a Cook County prosecutor, as well as a self-proclaimed Republican who downloaded the ring tones of Blagojevich on secret FBI wiretaps and who believed the former governor was guilty.
The retrial is not expected to last as long as the first one - which spanned 2 1/2 months - in part because prosecutors have streamlined their case.