Jury foreperson: Diplomacy reigned in Blagojevich deliberations

June 29, 2011 5:52:15 AM PDT
The jurors who decided Rod Blagojevich's fate talked about their deliberations one day after they convicted the former Illinois governor on 17 of 20 counts in his corruption retrial.

These jurors, who are everyday citizens, knew what was at stake, that it would be hard and that the best way to reach a fair and just verdict was to move slowly, to cover every tape, every piece of evidence and testimony, and to do it in a respectful fashion.

Two of the jurors happen to share the same last name. They are related - not by blood or marriage but by shared experience.

"All of us went in there with he's presumed innocent. So what do you have to prove him guilty? And I experienced that when I felt one way and then as we went through all the testimony, I ended up feeling a different way," said Karin Wilson, juror.

Wilson, who is an elementary school teacher, knows the value of patience and thoroughness. So does Connie Wilson, the jury foreperson who is a retired music director at her parish. They were two of 12 people picked for a big job. All jurors were determined from the get-go to move slowly and listen respectfully to all opinions, which is what happened.

Voices were never raised? "No, not really, which is so surprising with 12 strangers in a room. A small room. Diplomacy reigned? It did. It really did," said Connie Wilson.

About four days into their deliberations, the jurors had listened to all the tapes and had reached a conclusion of guilt on one of the Senate seat charges. The others followed.

"All the Senate seat stuff was very overwhelming. We had to work harder at the others," said Karin Wilson.

"I think in this instance it didn't become about Illinois, it became about personal gain," said Karin Wilson.

"The first guilty verdict...brought a lot of emotion to me too because you don't want to have to do that to somebody, have such a drastic effect on their life," said juror Maya Moody.

Blagojevich had hoped that by taking the stand, his explanations might register with the jury. Some of what he said did, but his life story was too much, some jurors felt.

"I felt the extraneous information was not something we needed to hear. It wasn't pertinent. It was inserted to manipulate our hearts to feel sympathy for him," said Karin Wilson.

The reality is the jurors are sympathetic. They were reluctant to even look at the ex-governor and his wife when the verdict was announced. But the jurors had a job.

"I feel bad for the kids, I feel bad for loved ones, but we really had to separate that, and I think we were successful at that," said Karin Wilson.

"You still have to be responsible for your actions. It's gonna hurt people. Unfortunately, his family is going to be very hurt," said Connie Wilson.

"I feel sorry for the children too, but we had to push that to the side and not even think about his family...think about him only," said John McParland, the only male juror.

This was a jury that decided early on to keep pressure at arms' length.

"They're probably speculating on why we're deliberating so long. It doesn't matter. They're not in this room," said Connie Wilson.

"I can only speak for me. I didn't want taxpayers to have to pay for another trial if we were to do anything wrong. I didn't want my name associated with that," said Karin Wilson. She says other jurors felt the same.

Unlike many juries, this one didn't begin deliberations with a straw poll. They held off on that. And they used a teamwork technique called "fist to five"; you hold up a fist, you're signaling 'not guilty.' Five fingers up means guilty. But you may have reservations. You hold up fewer fingers. That facilitates discussion.


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