Blagojevich jury pool down to 45

June 8, 2011 12:43:07 PM PDT
Judge James Zagel is giving prosecution and defense teams the weekend to think about the potential jurors in the second corruption trial of former governor Rod Blagojevich.

Forty-five men and women remain in the pool. The defense will get to strike 13 from the list, the prosecutors will strike 9. Judge Zagel hopes to have the 12 jurors and six alternates picked Monday.

Once the jury is seated, opening arguments will begin.

Court is back in session Monday at 9 a.m.

As in previous days, more prospective candidates on Thursday said they had formed definite opinions about the twice-elected governor. A retired nurse wrote "Guilty as charged" about Blagojevich in her 38-page questionnaire. Zagel later dismissed her. In an indication of how much is at stake in jury selection, tension rose briefly between the sides when the government asked Zagel to dismiss an unemployed man who said he spends his days watching reruns of "The Beverly Hillbillies" and who struggled to express himself during his in-court interview.

"Maybe he didn't speak King's English . . . but we would be developing a class standard if we don't let him serve," said defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky. He added that prosecutors seemed to want idyllic people who could "be depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting" as jurors.

Dropping his characteristic formality, prosecutor Reid Schar turned to Sorosky and said angrily, "Shelly, go ahead and argue your point but don't misinterpret what I'm saying."

In the end, Zagel dismissed the man on the grounds that he "seems to be entirely detached from reality."

After a week of jury selection, there are more than 40 people in the pool of prospective jurors. While Zagel had said earlier he wanted 40 before making final decisions on the 12 jurors and six alternates, he later said he wanted a few more. He initially hoped openings would start this week.

Zagel told attorneys they can exercise preemptory challenges, in which they eliminate prospective jurors without having to give a reason, on Monday. Prosecutors get nine such challenges and the defense gets 13. That's the final step before a jury is impanelled.

The jury process has plodded along in part, Zagel said, because so many potential panelists have heard at least something about the high-profile first trial.

Another person the judge dismissed was a woman who had tickets to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and was worried jury duty would force her to miss it. Another candidate bumped was a teacher who the judge said displayed "terrible grammar" in his questionnaire.

Among those still in the pool is a federal probation officer and a woman whose husband volunteered for Blagojevich's congressional campaign,

Blagojevich's first trial last summer ended with a hung jury, with a single holdout juror preventing a conviction on several key counts. That outcome drove home just how vital jury selection is to both sides in the retrial.

The first jury did find Blagojevich guilty of lying to the FBI. He has pleaded not guilty to all 20 charges he faces at the retrial, including that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat in exchange for campaign cash or a top job.

The retrial is not expected to last as long as the first trial -- which spanned 2 1/2-months -- in part because prosecutors have streamlined their case.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.


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