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Second Blagojevich trial opens to simpler prosecution strategy
Ex-governor faces corruption charges
Question of the Day
CHICAGO | A government attorney told jurors Monday at Rod R. Blagojevich’s corruption retrial that the ousted Illinois governor acted like a corrupt traffic cop pressing a vulnerable driver for a bribe to let them avoid a speeding ticket.
“It doesn’t matter if the driver pays or not,” prosecutor Chris Niewoehner told the newly chosen jury during opening statements. “The policeman has made a criminal demand and committed a crime. He did it because he had power. … Blagojevich had the power.”
That anecdote appeared to be an attempt by prosecutors to spell out Mr. Blagojevich’s alleged crimes more clearly than at the first trial, which ended with deadlocked jurors - many of whom complained that the case was too scattershot and too hard to understand.
Mr. Niewoehner began by telling jurors that Mr. Blagojevich had abandoned the sense of duty he should have felt toward his constituents.
“The people of Illinois put their trust in him to look out for them, but he sold out that trust,” he said. “Instead of doing what was best for the people if of Illinois, he decided to use his power to do what was best for one person - himself.”
When attorney Aaron Goldstein took the floor to deliver the openings for the defense, though, he told jurors all the government evidence that will presented in the coming weeks won’t amount to anything.
“You will see the lengths to which they will go to get this man. … And you will still be left with nothing,” he told jurors. “You will find yourself wanting more, and time after time you will get nothing.”
Before opening statements began, attorneys and a judge made the final selection of the 12 jurors and six alternates. They include a teacher, a librarian, a retired director of music at a Catholic church, video store employee who likes to watch Judge Judy on television and a woman whose husband once did volunteer work for one of Blagojevich’s campaigns.
Blagojevich’s first trial last summer ended with jurors deadlocked on all but one count. This time, Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges - from attempted extortion of a children’s hospital executive to conspiracy to commit bribery in a bid to sell or trade an appointment to President Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat in exchange for campaign cash or a well-paying job.
“What I am about to tell you probably won’t surprise you,” Mr. Goldstein said. “Rod likes to talk. He talks and talks and talks.”
Mr. Goldstein walked through each of the alleged schemes and told jurors each time, “Rod gets nothing.” On the Senate seat, Mr. Goldstein added, “Selling the Senate seat - all talk. Rod does nothing. Rod gets nothing.”
Mr. Niewoehner seemed to have anticipated that argument, telling jurors repeatedly that the bid to sell the seat or extort campaign donations was a crime.
“Right there, the crime is complete,” he said about Blagojevich allegedly making his decisions contingent on contributions or some other personal benefit.
If convicted on all counts, Blagojevich would face a maximum prison term of 350 years, though guidelines would dictate he get far less. He already faces five years for his conviction at the first trial on a charge of lying to the FBI.
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