- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 21, 2010

CHICAGO (AP) — Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich stood up in court Wednesday and told the judge the opposite of what he has been saying for months. He now says that he will not testify in his own defense to charges that include trying to sell an appointment to President Obama’s old Senate seat.

The ousted governor, who loudly insisted on television and radio and even to bystanders outside the courthouse that he would speak directly to jurors, stood in court with his hands folded in front of him, saying calmly and confidently that it was his choice not to testify.

“Is it your decision not to testify?” Judge James B. Zagel asked.

“It is my decision,” Mr. Blagojevich responded, nodding slightly.

His attorneys promptly rested his defense. Prosecutors also rested their case against him.

Mr. Blagojevich returned to his seat, smiling. During a recess a few minutes later, he picked up where he began the trial — turning and shaking hands with well-wishers it the spectator benches and even signing autographs.

The judge told jurors the evidence stage of the case had concluded. He also told them that they wouldn’t have to return until Monday.

It is rare and risky for defendants in federal trials to testify in their own defense, and experts have said Mr. Blagojevich would need to abandon his usual cockiness, humble himself and not allow himself to be goaded.

On FBI wiretap recordings prosecutors played for jurors, an often profane Mr. Blagojevich was heard speculating on what he could get in exchange for Mr. Obama’s former Senate seat — guaranteeing a grueling cross-examination.

His attorneys signaled Tuesday that he might not testify after all, saying they could rest without calling a single witness — including Mr. Blagojevich — because the prosecution did not prove its case.

Lawyers for Mr. Blagojevich told Judge Zagel on Tuesday that they had decided not to call any witnesses, but the judge told them to take the night to sleep on it, a person with knowledge of the decision told the Associated Press. That person would speak only on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to divulge the information.

Mr. Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to trade an appointment to the Senate seat for a Cabinet post in Mr. Obama’s administration, an ambassadorship, a high-paying job or a massive campaign donation. He also has pleaded not guilty to scheming to launch a racketeering operation in the governor’s office.

His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, a Nashville, Tenn., real estate entrepreneur, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged plan to sell the Senate seat and playing a role in a plot to squeeze businessmen illegally for campaign contributions.

Asked Tuesday what about the prosecution’s five-week presentation made Mr. Blagojevich’s attorneys rethink putting their client on the stand, lawyer Sam Adam Jr. said, “Their entire case.” Mr. Adam said calling Mr. Blagojevich might appear to lend credence to the charges, but not calling him would seem to contradict the fiery attorney’s pledge to jurors in his opening statement last month.

“I’m telling you now, he’s going testify,” Mr. Adam thundered, pacing the floor in front of the jury and then poking fun at himself. “He’s not gonna let some chubby, four-eyed lawyer do his talking for him.” Pointing at the witness box, he added dramatically, “He’s going to get up there and tell you exactly what was going on.”

As recently as Monday, the former governor went out of his way to say he would testify. As he approached spectators outside the courtroom, he said loudly, “Show of hands: Anyone here planning on testifying?” He then thrust his own hand high in the air, smiled and walked into court.



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