Blagojevich's future again in hands of jurors
CHICAGO – Rod Blagojevich's future was once again in the hands of jurors, after a day of fist thumping and tears during final arguments Thursday at the ousted Illinois governor's retrial on corruption charges.
Jurors heard prosecutors describe Blagojevich as a schemer who lied to their faces on the witness stand about trying to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat and shaking down executives for campaign cash.
"What he is saying to you now is not borne out anywhere on the recordings that you have," prosecutor Carrie Hamilton said, urging jurors to listen to FBI wiretap recordings played during the trial.
"There's one person in the middle of it — the defendant," she said, pointing at Blagojevich. "What you hear is a sophisticated man ... trying to get things for himself."
Blagojevich's attorney countered that the government showed only that he talks a lot.
"He didn't get a dime, a nickel, a penny . . . nothing," defense attorney Aaron Goldstein shouted just feet from the jury box. Pointing at Blagojevich, Goldstein added that the trial "isn't about anything but nothing."
Judge James Zagel said he expects jurors to begin deliberations Friday.
Blagojevich's first trial last year ended with a hung jury. That panel could agree on just a single count — that he lied to the FBI about how involved he was in fundraising as governor.
The impeached governor, 54, faces 20 counts, including attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery. He did not take the stand in his first trial, but testified for seven days this time and denied all wrongdoing.
Pacing the crowded courtroom and sometimes pounding his fist on a lectern, Goldstein echoed what Blagojevich said on the stand — that his recorded conversations were mere brainstorming.
"You heard a man thinking out loud, on and on and on," he said. "He likes to talk, and he does talk, and that's him. And that's all you heard."
"They want you to believe his talk is a crime — it's not," Goldstein added, casting a look at three prosecutors sitting nearby.
Lead prosecutor Reid Schar challenged that argument, telling jurors in his rebuttal — the last word to jurors — that Blagojevich went way beyond talk.
"He made decisions over and over, and took actions over and over," he said. "It's not that he talked a lot and it means nothing. It's that he talked a lot and it means everything."
He also mocked Blagojevich for testifying that he didn't mean his apparent comments on wiretaps about pressuring businessmen for cash or other favors.
"There's one person, this guy," Schar said, indicating Blagojevich, "whose words don't mean what they mean."
Blagojevich appeared glum as a prosecutor spoke, picking at his fingernails. He perked up and nodded in agreement at his own attorney. Jurors sat rapt as Goldstein whispered, yelled and moved around the room, but appeared to take fewer notes compared to when the prosecutor spoke.
Goldstein applauded Blagojevich for testifying, saying "it took courage to walk up there" to the witness stand.
"A man charged does not have to prove a thing," Goldstein said. "That man did not have to go up there, did not have to testify."
In contrast, he said many of the government witnesses had agreed to testify under the threat of prosecution or longer prison sentences.
As Goldstein ended his closing argument, he turned to Blagojevich, placed his fist over his heart and said, "Rod, it is an honor to represent you." Blagojevich's wife, Patti, began to sob, and the former governor also later wiped away tears.
As he entered the courthouse earlier, a fan shouted at him, "I love you." Blagojevich beamed and walked over to give her a kiss on the cheek. He joked with an aspiring attorney nearby, "I'm going to hire you for my next case."
After jurors at the first trial said prosecutors' case was too hard to follow, they sharply streamlined it. Prosecutors called about 15 witnesses this time — about half the number from last time. They also asked them fewer questions and rarely strayed onto topics not directly related to the charges.
Hamilton tried to assume the role of professor — speaking in simple terms as she went through each charge and clicking on a mouse to display explanatory charts, complete with bullet points and arrows.
She also insisted that the government's witnesses — not the ousted Illinois governor — told the truth on the witness stand.
Karen Hawkins can be reached at www.twitter.com/(underscore)khawkins. Michael Tarm can be reached at www.twitter.com/mtarm