Nation - Illinois Jury gets case in ex-governor Blagojevich corruption trial After giving lengthy instructions, judge says he does not expect a speedy verdict

By Don Babwin and Michael Tarm

Associated Press Writers

CHICAGO (AP) -- Rod Blagojevich's fate was in the hands of jurors Wednesday as they prepared to begin deciding whether the impeached Illinois governor tried to sell a nomination to President Barack Obama's former Senate seat and schemed to use his political power for personal gain.

Jurors, weighing evidence against the second Illinois governor in a row to be charged with corruption in office, first received lengthy instructions from the judge on how their deliberations should be conducted -- including one instruction that they are not to consider the fact that Blagojevich did not testify.

"I'm not expecting" a speedy verdict, Judge James B. Zagel said earlier.

One critical instruction he gave was that jurors could make "reasonable inferences." That is important because prosecutors said in their closing arguments that Blagojevich did not point-blank demand money in exchange for something but implied it.

During the seven weeks of testimony, jurors heard evidence that ranged from a hospital administrator saying he believed Blagojevich was threatening to withhold state money unless he ponied up a campaign contribution to a former deputy governor recounting how Blagojevich hid in the bathroom to avoid state business.

Prosecutors portrayed him as a greedy, smart political schemer determined to use his power to enrich himself, while his attorney characterized him as an insecure bumbler who talked too much and had terrible judgment about who to trust.

Blagojevich said loudly and often that he planned to testify, but said he decided on the advice of his attorneys not to. They said the government hadn't proved its case. That decision shortened the trial considerably.

Jurors and the alternates sat with their eyes on the gray-haired Zagel, for the first time in weeks without note pads. Blagojevich also watched the judge, only occasionally glancing over at jurors. His wife Patti, sitting a few feet to his left, appeared to scan the faces of jurors.

Blagojevich had smiled earlier as he and his wife walked past reporters waiting outside court, and noted there were few people watching his arrival. "Where is everybody?" he asked. During the trial, Blagojevich would sometimes plunge into the waiting crowds to shake hands and sign autographs.

Before court began, an elderly woman told Blagojevich she was praying for him. He put his hand over his heart and thanked her.

Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to 24 counts, including trying to sell or trade an appointment to Obama's vacated Senate seat for a Cabinet post, private job or campaign cash. If convicted, he could face up to $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, though he is sure to get much less time under federal guidelines.

His brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54, has also pleaded not guilty to taking part in that alleged scheme.

Much of the prosecution's evidence rested on wiretapped conversations. Zagel warned jurors that they could not consider their personal feelings about wiretaps and stressed that the FBI acted legally. He said he would provide the jury with transcripts of calls as well as the recordings of phone calls and equipment to listen to them.

The judge also reminded jurors that some prosecution witnesses received immunity in exchange for their testimony, and that their comments can be considered, but "with great care." Similarly, he said other witnesses against Blagojevich pleaded guilty to charges and got benefits from the government, included a reduced sentence. Zagel said they could consider their testimony but, again, "with caution and care."

Published: Thu, Jul 29, 2010


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