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Rod Blagojevich 'silly,' but not a criminal, defense says

The defense lawyer for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich waved his arms, shouted, and worked up a sweat in a rowdy closing argument Tuesday. Jury deliberations begin Wednesday.

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“That was grandstanding, it had nothing to do with his client,” says Douglas Godfrey, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law and a former criminal defense lawyer, of the confrontation with the judge. The judge is correct, he added, that the closing arguments are supposed to be based on evidence.

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When Adam eventually did give his closing argument, he began by pointing out the most conspicuous missing witness of all: Blagojevich himself, who he had repeatedly promised would take the stand, before deciding against it last week.

He called the governor’s absence from the stand “the pink elephant in the room,” and said he didn’t appear because the government had failed to prove its case.

"I had no idea that in two and a half months of trial that they'd prove nothing," he told jurors.

As expected, Adam harped on the fact that the evidence, including many hours of wiretapping tapes with expletive-laced comments from the former governor talking about kickbacks he’d like to have – was largely circumstantial, and he portrayed his client as a buffoon and an ineffective governor, at one point calling him “silly” given the scenarios he imagined.

“This is a man who considered appointing Oprah Winfrey” to the US Senate, Adam said. “No one’s going to say he’s the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s not corrupt.”

He pleaded with the jury to find Blagojevich not guilty, telling them, “this is serious stuff.”

In its rebuttal, the prosecution took strong issue with Adam's arguments.

Blagojevich “is not stupid, he’s very smart,” prosecutor Reid Schar told the jury. “He didn’t get elected twice ... by accident.”

Mr. Schar stressed that the governor was someone who knew “how to communicate” his shakedown attempts without being explicit.

Schar criticized Adam’s defense as saying, essentially, “I didn’t do it, and if I did it, I didn’t mean to do it,” and told jurors they needed to hold Blagojevich accountable for his actions.

When jurors return Wednesday to begin deliberations, they’ll be read a long list of instructions. They’ll have to decide whether the evidence shows that Blagojevich was, in fact, the conspiracy ringleader the prosecution says he is. Defendants in federal court rarely get acquitted, and many observers say that the case against the former governor is a strong one.

“I think it’s an uphill battle for the defense,” says Professor Alschuler of Northwestern. Still, he adds, “it’s very hard to predict juries.”

• AP material was used in this report.