Librarian, bartender, teacher among Blago jurors

June 12, 2011 - 2:45 PM
Blagojevich Trial

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich pauses as he talks with reporters at the Federal Court building after the judge handed the case to the jury in his corruption trial Thursday, June 9, 2011 in Chicago. Blagojevich faces 20 counts, including that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

CHICAGO (AP) — The jurors weighing corruption charges against impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich include a former church choir director, a video-store worker who watches Judge Judy on TV and a dietitian who specializes in bananas.

Those backgrounds are just one of many factors that will help decide whether the 12 jurors — who begin their first full day of deliberation Monday — can reach a verdict in the former governor's case, attorneys and trial experts say.

Jurors at Blagojevich's first trial deadlocked after a lone holdout prevented a conviction on the most explosive allegation — that he sought to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job.

The jury this time is mulling over roughly the same accusations, including the Senate seat charge and allegations that Blagojevich sought to shake down businessmen for campaign donations. But there are some things they have that jurors last year didn't: most notably, Blagojevich's own testimony as part of a defense case.

Despite a promise to jurors by Blagojevich's former attorney at the first trial, Blagojevich never took the stand and the defense decided not to call any witnesses. That jury could agree on just one count, convicting Blagojevich of the least serious charge — lying to the FBI.

This time, Blagojevich looked the jurors in the eyes during seven days on the witness stand and denied all the charges. The question is how many believed him.

"It's almost voodoo to try and figure out what in the world (jurors) might be thinking," defense attorney Aaron Goldstein told reporters after closing arguments.

The jury has 11 women, who also include a bartender, school teacher and a librarian.

Trying to guess how jurors will vote based on their backgrounds is an inexact science at best, legal experts warn. That the jury is largely women, they said, may or may not play in the ousted governor's favor.

"It's possible the defense may believe that profile could help Blagojevich," said Beth Foley, a Chicago-based jury consultant. "But verdicts usually don't break down along gender lines. Women are as diverse in their opinions as anyone."

What could help Blagojevich is a tendency of some jurors to want to side with the underdog, she said.

"If there's a perception the government has come down hard on Blagojevich, which there seems to be," she said, "he could ... potentially benefit from that."

Jurors' demeanor didn't offer much of a clue about what they might be thinking, Goldstein said — though he nevertheless tried to look for one.

"But if someone smiles at you, they could be smiling about something completely random," he said. "If they give you a mean face, it could about something else. .... You just don't know."

Most of the time, the jurors sat expressionless. They often took feverish notes, many seeming to fill up at least a notebook a day during six weeks of testimony. A few laughed when Blagojevich cracked a joke; others rolled their eyes.

The jurors seemed to perk up when Blagojevich talked about his children and how he had taken after his father's penchant to dream big.

But they also seemed rapt when the lead prosecutor, Reid Schar, nearly shouted his first question of the cross-examination, asking, "Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?" Blagojevich eventually responded, "Yes."

One wild card is the notion of celebrity, with jurors sometimes reacting in unpredictable ways to people, like Blagojevich, whom they may think they have insight into because they've watched them on TV.

"But it can work both ways," said Foley. "People come in with ... preconceived notions — they may like Blagojevich going in or dislike him."

Another unknown is how much time it will take jurors to reach a decision. At the first trial they took two weeks to deliberate, and panelists later described moments of high tension as those in the majority tried to persuade the holdout to also vote to convict.

There are reasons to think it won't take as long this time, said James Matsumoto, the jury foreman at the first trial who has attended much of the retrial as a spectator.

The government's case has been drastically streamlined, with prosecutors dropping complex racketeering counts against Blagojevich, using simpler language in explaining the charges and calling fewer witnesses.

"I really think prosecutors greatly improved their chances of multiple convictions, if not on all 20 counts, than at least half," he said.

Matsumoto voted to convict Blagojevich on all counts and said everything he's heard at the retrial has confirmed his belief that he was right.

He's run into the former governor at the courthouse during the second trial and said Blagojevich has been friendly and stopped to chat.

"But he knows I voted to convict," Matsumoto said. "And he's told me, 'I'm glad you're not on this jury.'"