Holdout juror at Blagojevich trial explains vote

August 27, 2010 3:30:32 PM PDT
The juror who voted not to convict former governor Rod Blagojevich on charges he tried to sell or trade a U.S. senate seat has broken her silence.

Sixty-seven-year-old Joann Chiakulas spoke to The Chicago Tribune. She said she suffered stomach pains and fatigue during deliberations. But she told the newspaper she had a responsibility to follow her conscience and the law.

"I could never live with myself if I went along with the rest of the jury," Chiakulas said. "I didn't believe it was the correct vote for me."

As for what she heard Blagojevich say on the secret recordings, she said, "I thought he was narcissistic...I thought he was all over the place. I thought he was just rambling."

Since the verdict was announced last week, some have labeled Chiakulas a "holdout," and they have questioned her vote.

Chiakulas told the Tribune, "It was something that I took seriously and didn't ask, for and then to be treated the way I've been treated...it makes me wonder about being a juror and the system itself."

With Rod Blagojevich's retrial set for January, attorneys will have to start the jury selection process all over again. ABC 7's Paul Meincke looks at whether things will be done differently the second time around:

What Chiakulas is saying -- what the other jurors have already said -- is being carefully weighed and measured by lawyers on both sides. It will have bearing on how the evidence is presented in the retrial, and to the extent it can, it will be front and center when a new jury is picked.

Robert Blagojevich is no longer in the mix, the government having dropped charges against him. Juror votes and their post trial comments make it clear that the Senate seat and tapes were the strongest part of the government's presentation, so a variety of sources suggest that prosecutors will move more swiftly into that part of their case. But it doesn't necessarily follow that other parts will be ditched or even changed that much.

"I think they made a good judgment by going to the children's hospital, which is an area where -- why would an ex-governor hold up money to a children's hospital in order to get a contribution to himself? And that sends in a powerful message and didn't result in a conviction, but will be good for the prosecution to pursue," said Harold Krent, Dean-IIT-Kent College of Law.

"The government has to be thinking we have to do something differently and more intense in jury selection," said Patrick Collins, former assistant U.S. Attorney/Perkins-Coie.

Jury selection is more art than science. Ultimately, it's the lawyers relying on gut instinct, and there is no real formula in figuring out how to handle it more intensely.

The defense lawyers and prosecutors had what they considered to be a focused, diligent jury, and while they can make educated guesses about what individuals might do, predicting the dynamics in the jury room is anybody's guess.

"Maybe Judge Zagel will give more latitude to all the parties in the process. I don't know, but if I'm the government, it's absolutely the most crucial part of the case," said Collins.

Conventional wisdom gives the benefit to the prosecution in a retrial, but this is a case in which even the judge once remarked there is a lot of talk and not much action. And that was the conclusion of one juror on many of the counts in Blagojevich Part I.

"All it takes is one or two persons to be skeptical of overreaching by the prosecution or very sympathetic to what Blagojevich has done in the past to say 'No, I'm not going to guilty,' and that may happen," said Krent.

The jury selection process begins with the court finding a pool of potential jurors from the Northern district who will be able to sit for a trial of 10 to 11 weeks. That's the new ballpark length of the trial. Then jurors will fill out a lengthy questionnaire, which was done in the first trial. Those questions -- about work, education, politics, life experience -- are detailed and help give the judge and lawyers a picture of potential jurors when they are questioned.


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