Blagojevich case goes to jury for deliberations
Blagojevich appeared in court Tuesday with his wife and children as lawyers for both sides made their closing arguments. Now, the jury gets to decide his fate.
Chicago — Jurors will go off to deliberate the fate of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich with the image of an immaculately dressed and smiling man with his two daughters sitting nearby in the courtroom, but also with the memory of him cursing in the vilest of terms about everyone from the president to the voters who elected him.
The ousted Illinois governor's corruption trial will be placed in the hands of the jury Wednesday, much sooner than expected and without hearing from some of the witnesses they were told would take the stand — including Blagojevich.
After final jury instructions, jurors will be tasked with deciding the fate of the state's second governor in a row to be charged with corruption in office. They will have to weigh seven weeks of testimony, which 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.
They will have to decide whether Blagojevich was engaged in various schemes to gain power and money or if he was an honest man who trusted the wrong people and innocently said the wrong things while the FBI listened in.
"This guy had more training in criminal background than the average lawyer and somehow this guy is the accidentally corrupt governor?" asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar.
Not corrupt at all, said Sam Adam Jr., one of Blagojevich's defense attorneys.
"He's got absolutely horrible judgment on people," Adam said. "And that's this case and they want you to find him guilty of these horrible things because of that."
The two portraits of the disgraced former governor took center stage during closing arguments Tuesday with about the only thing the attorneys agreed on was that they both told the jurors to listen to the tape recordings.
"You heard the tapes, and you heard Rod on the tapes," said Adam, who described his client as naive but not a criminal. "You can infer what was in Rod's mind on the tapes. You can infer from those tapes whether he's trying to extort the president of the United States. We heard tape after tape of just talking."
But Schar told the jury to listen to both what the governor said and what he didn't say. Blagojevich, he insisted, knew how to ask for a bribe in a way that the person on the other end of the phone understood exactly without him coming out and asking for it.
"He knows how to communicate, that is what he does for a living," Schar said. "He's good at it."
Adam — pacing, sweating and alternately shouting and whispering to the jury — acknowledged to jurors that he did not call Blagojevich to testify, as he had promised when the trial started. But, he said, the reason was simple: the government did not prove its case.
"I thought he'd sit right up here," Adam shouted, walking over to the witness stand and pointing at the empty chair. "I promised he'd testify. We were wrong. Blame me."
Adam had wanted to name potential witnesses that prosecutors didn't call to testify, even threatening Monday to risk jail by doing it after Judge James B. Zagel forbid it. Zagel said Tuesday that he didn't want Adam to refer to evidence that potential witnesses allegedly would have offered.
Adam didn't seem to cross lines in referring to President Barack Obama, presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel — though he did seem to skirt it at least once. Zagel said he would deal with any improper references by Adam in his jury instructions Wednesday.
The prosecution objected more than 20 times to Adam's statements, all of which Zagel sustained.
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. His brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54, has also pleaded not guilty to taking part in that alleged scheme.
Adam said prosecutors never presented evidence that anyone who was allegedly targeted by Blagojevich for a shakedown conducted fundraising.
"Tell me one state contract tied to fundraising?" he asked. "Did they bring one state contract based on fundraising? Just one? No."
Schar did not raise his voice throughout his argument but did, as he wound down, display emotion for the first time. The prosecutor paused, rubbed his face and looked at the floor before he raised his head and gave what were the final words the jury would hear from attorneys.
"I don't know how you begin to put a price on the damage defendant Blagojevich has caused," he said. "The time for accountability for the defendants is now."