Special Segment: Blagojevich Sentencing

In this April 21, 2009 file photo, ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is seen leaving federal court in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
November 15, 2011 8:38:34 PM PST
Rod Blagojevich is scheduled to be sentenced next month. ABC7 takes a look at what experts say the former governor should say to the judge who will decide his fate and what Blagojevich can expect behind bars.

George Ryan got six-and-a-half years in prison. There is a widely held belief that Blagojevich will get more. There are federal sentencing guidelines that Judge James Zagel will refer to, but he can also depart from them - up or down.

What the 40th governor of Illinois chooses to say may not ultimately move the sentencing needle very much, but veteran lawyers say if he hopes for some measure of leniency, he won't get it by making a campaign speech.

Given what he said before and during his two trials, what does the convicted Rod Blagojevich say to the judge?

"What would benefit him most is something he would never do, which is to accept responsibility for breaking the law. He doesn't believe he broke the law," said Prof. Leonard Cavise, DePaul School of Law.

What Blagojevich could, and some believe, should say, is that he accepts the jury's verdict.

"I may disagree with it, but I have to accept it because that's the law. And I apologize for the wrong things I've done. And be contrite and go from there," said Phil Turner, former federal prosecutor.

Blagojevich is appealing because he and his legal team do not think they got a fair shake from the judge. The judge has heard that many times in motions. He also heard Blagojevich on the stand for the better part of seven days. He will hear him again along with character witnesses and letters meant to accent Rod Blagojevich's good works.

"Anything that will humanize him, something from his daughters even. I think that kind of stuff, judges read it and are affected by it, but ultimately they have to sentence based on the crime," said Patrick Collins, former federal prosecutor.

And the fact that Blagojevich testified in his own defense actually works against him. The guilty verdict means his testimony is tantamount to obstruction of justice, and because of that the judge - under federal sentencing guidelines - can slightly increase Blagojevich's prison time.

"And so I think he will take into account both the factors that are in the guidelines that exist on the books, and all sorts of intangibles that aren't on the books, and so I think with all of that he ends up in all likelihood with 10 years, 12 years, something in that area," said Gil Sofer, former federal prosecutor.

The Bureau of Prisons, not the judge, determines where Blagojevich will do his time. The BOP, as a rule, attempts to keep its inmates within a five-hundred mile radius of their homes which could mean for the ex-governor Oxford, Terre Haute, Duluth, or maybe Yankton, South Dakota, which is where Scott Fawell did most of his time.

"When you're there, everyday is like Groundhog day. The same as the day before. There's nothing different. A Saturday is like a Tuesday. There is no difference," said Fawell.

Fawell was George Ryan's chief of staff. He was sentenced to 78 months and did 54. As happened to him, Fawell says the first thing the governor will undergo on arrival is a strip search. He will be fingerprinted, mugshot taken. He'll be given standard issue work boots, Khaki pants and shirts with his name and number on them, then a pillow and a bunk number.

"Then they'll give you your stack of stuff, tell you where your bunk is, and you'll go there, make your bunk and start your life," he said.

New arrivals almost always get the top bunk, and typically the least desirable jobs like cleaning toilets. And, as Fawell says, the initial, unmistakable message from the staff and the inmates is - you may have been a somebody on the outside, but that means nothing on the inside. You're just like everybody else, even if they've seen you on TV.

"It could be Bozo the Clown. It really doesn't matter to an inmate, hey I saw you on TV. They don't want to hear about free bus rides for seniors or free health care for kids. They say really? You got an extra can of tuna?" said Fawell

Fawell says he handled 54 months of Groundhog days with some mental toughness, a sense of humor, avoiding inmates who had a "woe is me" attitude, and focusing on nightly collect calls home - inmates have 300 minutes on the phone per month - and visits, which for Fawell were bi-weekly.

Fawell did most of his time in a federal prison camp. If a sentence is 10 years or more, the general rule is that the inmate doesn't go to a camp, but a more restrictive environment. But again, placement is up to the Bureau of Prisons. Time is up to the judge.


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