Jury deadlocks on all but 1 charge against Blago
CHICAGO (AP) — A federal jury deadlocked Tuesday on all but one of 24 charges against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, including the most explosive of all — that he tried to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat. Blagojevich was convicted on a single, less serious count of lying to federal agents.
Prosecutors pledged to retry the case as soon as possible.
“This jury shows you that the government threw everything but the kitchen sink at me,” Blagojevich said outside court. “They could not prove I did anything wrong — except for one nebulous charge from five years ago.”
But one juror said the panel was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of convicting Blagojevich of trying to auction off the Senate seat.
Juror Erik Sarnello of Itasca, Ill., said one woman on the jury “just didn’t see what we all saw.” The 21-year-old Sarnello said the counts involving the Senate seat were “the most obvious.”
Other jurors tried to persuade the holdout to reconsider, but “at a certain point, there was no changing,” he said.
Blagojevich — known for his showmanlike, over-the-top personality — showed no emotion as the verdict was read. Before jurors came in, he sat with his hands folded, looking down and picking nervously at his fingernails. He and his lawyer said they would appeal the conviction.
The verdict came on the 14th day of deliberations, ending an 11-week trial during which a foul-mouthed Blagojevich was heard on secret FBI wiretap tapes saying the power to name a senator was “(expletive) golden” and that he wasn’t going to give it up “for (expletive) nothing.”
The count on which Blagojevich was convicted included accusations that he lied to federal agents when he said he did not track campaign contributions. But the jury did not convict him on a related allegation that he kept a “firewall” between political campaigns and government work. It carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. Some of the more serious charges, such as racketeering, carried up to a 20-year penalty.
Blagojevich vowed to appeal the single conviction and declared that he was a victim of persecution by the federal government. He told reporters that he wants the “people of Illinois to know that I did not lie to the FBI.”
It had been clear jurors were struggling with the case. Last week, they told Zagel they had reached a unanimous decision on just two counts and had not even considered 11 others. There was no immediate explanation about whether they later disagreed.
Jurors appeared more haggard Tuesday than during the trial. As they filed into the courtroom, many appeared nervous, some looking down at the floor as Zagel read the verdict form to himself, then passed it to a bailiff. They had asked earlier Tuesday for advice on filling out their verdict forms and a copy of the oath they took before deliberating.
The jurors did not remain at the courthouse to explain their decisions.
“They’re going home,” said Joel Daly, a spokesman for Zagel. “A lot would like to talk to media folks, but they are plain tired.”
After the verdict was read, defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. rubbed his own forehead and mouth, appearing to shake his head in disgust. The former governor’s wife, Patti Blagojevich, leaned over in her chair, shaking her head.
The former governor’s brother and co-defendant, Robert Blagojevich, said the jury’s conclusion showed he’s been “an innocent target of the federal government” all along.
“I feel strong. I feel confident. I don’t feel in any way deterred. I’ve done nothing wrong,” he told reporters at the courthouse. “I’ve got ultimate confidence in my acquittal.”
Defense attorneys had argued that Blagojevich was a big talker, but never committed a crime. They took a huge gamble by deciding not to call any witnesses — including Blagojevich, who had repeatedly promised to take the stand.
“The jury agreed that the government did not prove its case,” the former governor said.
Judge James B. Zagel set a hearing for Aug. 26 to decide manner and timing of the retrial, which could unfold at the height of the fall campaign.
When Zagel said he would give prosecutors time to decide whether to take Blagojevich to court again, prosecutor Reid Schar spoke up instantly — almost appearing to cut the judge off.
“It is absolutely our intention to retry this,” the normally reserved prosecutor said sternly, looking momentarily agitated.
While Blagojevich showed little emotion, his wife Patti seemed close to tears — shutting her eyes before the verdict and exhaling slowly to keep her composer. Just before the verdict, she pulled out two knitting needles and began working on what appeared to be a sweater.
For most of the trial, the 53-year-old Blagojevich, a perpetual campaigner and recent reality TV star, seemed cheerful. He often glided through the courthouse smiling and chatting with passers-by.
His demeanor was in contrast to his older brother, a Nashville, Tenn. businessman, who was often subdued and walked to court alone.
By all accounts, the brothers were close growing up and Rod Blagojevich wrote fondly of Robert in his 2009 book, “The Governor.” But Robert Blagojevich’s attorney said the two drifted apart as they got older.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald was in the main courtroom for the verdict for the first time since the trial began. He sat at the end of a spectator’s bench near a wall on the opposite side of the room from Blagojevich, his hands folded across court documents. He looked on blank-faced as the verdict was read. His team of young prosecutors reflected the same mood, also looking on impassively.
Some observers said the government will come back with a tougher case next time.
“And the government has the resources to keep trying until they get a conviction — and they probably will,” said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor. “And Blagojevich is running out of resources. It is a war of attrition the government can win.”
Turner said Fitzgerald’s mistake was shutting down the covert investigation in 2008 and arresting Blagojevich before any alleged schemes played out.
“Had they let things proceed, this could have been an open and shut case,” he said.
As he left the courthouse, Blagojevich got a huge round of applause from the courthouse crowd.
Leota Johnson, 72, of Chicago, chanted “Rod is free!” Johnson said she supports Blago because she isn’t convinced he did anything wrong and that pay-for-play is Chicago politics as usual.
During the trial, prosecutors relied heavily on the FBI wiretaps, in which Blagojevich spewed profanity, speculated about getting a Cabinet job in exchange for the Senate appointment. Several witnesses also testified that they felt pressured to donate money to Blagojevich’s campaign in exchange for favorable state action.
Blagojevich’s trial was another chapter in Illinois’ history of crooked politics. His predecessor, George Ryan, was convicted of racketeering in 2006 and is serving a 6½-year-sentence.
Some had feared that the trial could harm Democrats as the party geared up for tough elections this fall.
Blagojevich’s attorneys had plastered Washington and Illinois with subpoenas — including White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — but by the end of the trial, none of them had testified, sparing Democrats any potentially embarrassing testimony.
Associated Press writers Karen Hawkins, Serena Dai and Deanna Bellandi contributed to this report.