Courts & Crime

Blagovich guilty on 17 counts

CHICAGO — A federal jury on Monday convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich of corruption.

Blogojevich showed no reaction as the jury found him guilty on 17 of 20 counts against him. He then sat back in his chair with his lips pursed and looked toward his wife Patti and whispered, "I love you." with disappointment on face. The jury deadlocked on two counts and found him not guilty of one count.

As he left his Chicago home for the courtroom Monday, Blagojevich had told reporters, "My hands are shaking, my knees are weak." He said he was praying for the best. "It's in God's hands."

Blagojevich stopped to hug one onlooker and thanked her for her support. Another onlooker jeered, calling to Blagojevich to enjoy his time in jail.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and the head of Chicago's FBI office, Robert Grant, were in the courtroom when the verdict was announced.

Jurors had barely begun their 10th day of deliberations when they told Judge James Zagel they had reached a verdict on 18 of 20 counts against the former governor.

"The jury has come to a unanimous decision on 18 of 20 counts ... We are confident that we will not be able to come to agreement on the two counts even with further deliberation," a note from the jury read.

Blagojevich took the stand at his retrial and denied all 20 counts. One allegation is that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.

Jurors at Blagojevich's first trial last year came back deadlocked after deliberating for 14 days. They agreed on just one of 24 counts, convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI. He faces up to five years on that conviction.

Blagojevich was arrested in December 2008 after the FBI had wiretapped hundreds of his telephone calls at work and home. The Illinois Legislature impeached him a month later.

Both trials hinged on whether the former governor's bold ramblings to aides and others on the telephone was just talk, as he insisted, or part of "a political crime spree," in the words of Fitzgerald.

Before a national audience, the Blagojevich saga exacerbated Illinois' reputation for graft. A conviction would mean Blagojevich is the second consecutive Illinois governor facing a prison sentence for corruption. His predecessor, former Gov. George Ryan, is serving a six-year sentence.

The case also became a media spectacle, as the indicted governor and his wife appeared on TV reality shows, and as the loquacious Blagojevich made theatrical appearances daily outside the courthouse during the first trial to profess his innocence and hug his remaining fans.

In a case full of high-level name dropping, defense attorneys in the retrial pulled into court Chicago's new Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Emanuel's appearance on the witness stand, the most anticipated by a Chicago mayor in a federal courtroom in decades, was over in just five minutes. Jackson was done in about half an hour.

Overall, though, the retrial had far less of the circus-like atmosphere that accompanied the initial trial. Blagojevich himself also was more subdued this time.

Other major differences were in the prosecution's dramatically streamlined case, and the fact that the defense put on a case after not doing so the first time around.

Prosecutors dropped racketeering counts against the ex-governor and dismissed all charges against his then co-defendant brother, Robert Blagojevich. They presented just three weeks of evidence — half the time taken at the first trial. They called fewer witnesses, asked fewer questions and played shorter excerpts of FBI wiretaps that underpin most of the charges.

There was also a new variable at the retrial: the testimony from Rod Blagojevich himself. At the first trial, the defense rested without calling any witnesses and Blagojevich didn't testify despite vowing that he would.

Retrial jurors saw a deferential Blagojevich look them in the eyes and deny every allegation, telling them his talk on the recordings was mere brainstorming.

Continuing coverage from the Chicago Tribune