Blagojevich jury expected to begin deliberations
CHICAGO (AP) — The political corruption case against ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is now in the hands of jurors — again.
For the second time, a jury will try to reach a verdict on charges including that he sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat and tried to shake down executives by threatening state decisions that would hurt their businesses.
Jurors were expected to begin deliberations Friday after getting the case the day before. Blagojevich's first trial last year ended with a hung jury, with the panel agreeing on a single count — that he lied to the FBI about how involved he was in fundraising as governor.
The impeached governor, 54, faces 20 counts, including attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery. He did not take the stand in his first trial, but he testified for seven days this time and denied all wrongdoing.
During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors described Blagojevich as a schemer who lied to jurors even when confronted with FBI wiretap recordings that seemed to catch him in the act.
"What he is saying to you now is not borne out anywhere on the recordings that you have," prosecutor Carrie Hamilton said, urging jurors to listen to the recordings carefully.
"There's one person in the middle of it — the defendant," she said, pointing at Blagojevich. "What you hear is a sophisticated man ... trying to get things for himself."
Blagojevich's attorney countered that the government showed only that he talks a lot.
"He didn't get a dime, a nickel, a penny ... nothing," defense attorney Aaron Goldstein shouted just feet from the jury box. Pointing at Blagojevich, Goldstein added that the trial "isn't about anything but nothing."
Pacing the crowded courtroom and sometimes pounding his fist on a lectern, Goldstein echoed what Blagojevich said on the stand: His recorded conversations were mere brainstorming.
"You heard a man thinking out loud, on and on and on," he said. "He likes to talk, and he does talk, and that's him. And that's all you heard."
Lead prosecutor Reid Schar challenged that argument, telling jurors in his rebuttal — the last word to jurors — that Blagojevich went way beyond talk.
"He made decisions over and over, and took actions over and over," he said. "It's not that he talked a lot and it means nothing. It's that he talked a lot and it means everything."
Blagojevich appeared glum as prosecutors spoke, either picking at his fingernails or sitting with his hands folded tightly. He perked up and nodded in agreement at his own attorney. Jurors sat rapt, sometimes feverishly taking notes, other times sitting with their eyes glued to a large screen.
After jurors at the first trial said prosecutors' case was too hard to follow, they sharply streamlined it. Prosecutors called about 15 witnesses this time, about half the number from last time. They also asked them fewer questions and rarely strayed onto topics not directly related to the charges.
Hamilton tried to assume the role of professor, speaking in simple terms as she went through each charge and clicking on a mouse to display explanatory charts, complete with bullet points and arrows.
She also insisted that the government's witnesses, not the ousted Illinois governor, told the truth on the witness stand.