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Rod Blagojevich found guilty on 17 counts. Is it a turning point for Illinois?

In a retrial, Rod Blagojevich is convicted of corruption stemming from the sale of President Obama's seat in the US Senate. The former Illinois governor says he's 'stunned.'

By Staff writer / June 27, 2011

In this courtroom sketch, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich sits before Federal Judge James Zagel as a court clerk reads the verdict in his corruption retrial in Chicago, Monday. Blagojevich was convicted by a jury of 17 of the 20 charges against him, including all 11 charges related to his attempt to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.

Tom Gianni/AP

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Chicago

A federal jury convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich of corruption stemming from the sale of President Obama’s Senate seat, finding him guilty Monday of 17 of the 20 counts against him.

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The verdict concluded a second federal trial that made the national spotlight for its moments of high drama and comic absurdity.

Outside the federal court building in downtown Chicago Monday afternoon, Mr. Blagojevich said he was “stunned” at the verdict.

“There's not much left to say other than we want to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them and try to sort things out,” he said.

Among the convictions of wire fraud, attempted extortion, bribery, the conspiracy to commit extortion and the conspiracy to commit bribery, 11 had to do with the sale of the US Senate seat held by Mr. Obama prior to his election as president in 2008.

The jury deadlocked on two counts of attempted extortion involving the solicitation of a construction executive. Blagojevich was found not guilty on a bribery count involving the same case.

Jurors took 10 days to reach the verdict, which is four days less than in the first trial last summer, which resulted in a hung jury on all but one charge: lying to the FBI. The slightly trimmed response time is likely due to the nature of the prosecution’s case, which involved fewer charges and a redesigned strategy that emphasized that even though Blagojevich may not have benefited from the scheming heard on wiretapped recordings, his actions constituted wrongdoing.

Federal prosecutors “really pounded, from the opening to the rebuttal summation, that words can be enough” to convict, says Patrick Cotter, a former US prosecutor who is in private practice in Chicago. “In light of this verdict, it was a really good move.”

The case also confirmed that successful verdicts for the defense are always more difficult to win in a retrial than the first, says Barry Pollack, a defense attorney specializing in white collar crime in Washington. In the Blagojevich case, the first trial “became, effectively, a dress rehearsal for the government to see what worked for them and what did not work for them,” says Mr. Pollack.

Blagojevich was arrested outside his home in December 2008. Ever since that time he campaigned aggressively to make the case he was being targeted by state Democrats who did not favor his public service initiatives. His public relations efforts quickly groomed a celebrity, presumably to shore up money for his mounting legal bills, and also to create a public face that contradicted the brash, and often foul-mouthed, political operative heard behind closed doors on FBI wiretaps.

The celebrity makeover helped generate the views locally that the second trial was a costly mistake for a state suffering from a $15 billion budget deficit and that Blagojevich was guilty of nothing other than being just another Illinois politician suffering from a monumental case of ego. Monday’s verdict is likely to reverse that opinion, says Shari Seidman Diamond, a law professor at Northwestern University in Chicago.

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