Wife defends Blago on first day of trial

July 21, 2010 8:28:19 AM PDT
Jury selection got under way Thursday in the corruption trial of former governor Rod Blagojevich, a case Illinoisans will be watching most of the summer.The selection process could take at least a couple of days before the opening statements.

The federal judge presiding over the case will not allow the jurors names to be announced until the end of the trial. Five news organizations had asked Zagel to drop his plan to empanel an anonymous jury.

Blagojevich and his wife arrived at court holding hands just before 11 a.m. Patti Blagojevich briefly spoke to the media, proclaiming her husband's innocence and thanking the public for its support.

For security reasons, the marshal's service had wanted Rod Blagojevich to make a quick entry into the courthouse. The ex-governor, though, chose to pause long enough to greet well-wishers, one of whom carried a sign saying 'Rod's not cuckoo. Rod's not guilty.'

The ex-governor did not make any pronouncements going in, but his wife thanked all those who've wished the Blagojevichs well.

"Today is a good day because today is the day that begins the process to correct a terrible injustice that's been done to my husband, our family and the people of illinois. My husband as governor did great things for people and continued to fight for them always. My husband is an honest man, and I know that he's innocent," said Patti Blagojevich said.

Patti Blagojevich did not take questions - the specific question being will she testify during the trial. Her husband says she will. His attorney says she may.

In the crowded courtroom upstairs, Judge James Zagel briefly spoke of the importance of jury service to the first pool of prospective jurors. "We fought a revolution so you could sit here today," he said adding, "the jury doesn't decide if it likes or dislikes a defendant, only if the government has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt."

The potential jurors are questioned individually. They are identified by number only. They have each filled out questionnaires in which they are asked about family history, employment, what they watch, what they read, whether they have any pre-conceived notions about the government's use of wiretaps, and perhaps most important, what impressions might they have about this case, and whatever they may be, can they set them aside and be fair?

The process of interviewing the jurors and choosing those who will ll serve will likely spill into next week.

The jury in this case will sit in judgment not only of the ex-governor, but also of his older brother Robert who was also indicted. Robert Blagojevich had asked that his trial be separated. The judge said no. The older Blagojevich sits at a table separate from his brother.

It is unusual in a public corruption trial for prospective jurors to remain anonymous until trial's end. There was a motion Thursday challenging that decision. Judge Zagel rejected it saying he's received emails and letters about the case, and that jurors need to be shielded from outside influence.

Illinois Republican Party members are keeping an eye on the Blagojevich trial. They launched a website Thursday called the Blagofiles.com. The GOP says that site will be updated through the trial to inform voters of testimony.

The attorneys say they expect jury selection to be wrapped up relatively quickly. That's when many politicians, including President Obama, will likely start paying close attention as two of top presidential aides, Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett,could be called to testify.

"We have subpoenaed them. We expect them to testify. They will show the governor didn't do anything wrong," said Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky. "We're here. We're ready to start. And God willing, we will prevail."

Walking to his waiting car with wife Patti, Blagojevich acted as though he was leaving a campaign appearance rather than the federal courthouse, waving to and greeting supporters. He declined to stop and talk to reporters but offered a brief comment.

"Can't wait to see you guys tomorrow," Blagojevich said.

The former governor is charged with 24 varying counts of fraud, bribery and extortion, including allegations he tried to shake down Children's Memorial Hospital and sell President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty.

The judge interviewed 29 potential jurors Thursday. Jury selection continues Friday and is expected to be finished early next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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