Jurors questioned in 2nd Blagojevich trial

April 21, 2011 8:04:53 PM PDT
Rod Blagojevich was present Thursday as the judge questioned potential jurors about serving in the former governor's second corruption trial.

"We fought a revolution so you can sit here today," Judge James Zagel told a pool of 35 potential jurors, who came into the courtroom for questioning one at a time and were called only by their numbers. They sit in the jury box and face the swarm of media, the judge, the former governor and his legal team and prosecutors.

As of 4 p.m., Judge Zagel had questioned 22 people about their impressions of politicians, political fundraising and their knowledge of the first Blagojevich trial in which the former governor was found guilty on one count- lying to the FBI- and the jury was hung on the other 23.

By the end of the day, 12 potential jurors were left in the pool after both prosecutors and defense attorneys got nine dropped for cause. Questioning of 13 leftover potential jurors will begin Monday.

When questioned by Judge Zagel, most potential jurors said they had not paid much attention to the first trial. One potential juror, a retired fork lift driver, said: "Yeah, I heard about it. He got away. Charges got dropped, try him again... In my eyes, everybody's guilty."

Another juror said: "Based on what I heard, he was guilty."

"I would say there is a school for potential jurors in which they teach them to dummy up and say nothing. They have no opinions about anything. They don't recall seeing much about anything, and they certainly don't have any conclusions in their minds," Prof. Leonard Cavise, Depaul College Of Law, said.

The fundamental question for jurors: Whatever you have heard, can you judge the evidence fairly? And, most prospective jurors said they could.

Several jurors did not show up for duty. One was dismissed because he has diabetes and it would be difficult for him to serve. Juror 112 was dismissed without questioning because he could not complete the 38-page questionnaire.

Blagojevich makes court debut in 2nd trial, quotes Shakespeare

Thursday was Blagojevich's first appearance in court, as required by Judge Zagel. His second corruption trial is only in its second day; on Wednesday, 150 potential jurors filled out questionnaires.

Leaving court Thursday evening, Blagojevich said he hoped that the second trial would deliver vindication to him.

"This has been a long and hard journey, but among the objectives is to get the vindication that I've said from the very beginning, that if the truth comes out, will happen," said Blagojevich.

The former Illinois governor was accompanied to federal court by his wife, Patti, and defense lawyers. He told court watchers they "make this a little less burdensome."

Earlier Thursday morning, Blagojevich spoke to reporters outside of his Ravenswood home. He said, "I owe vindication to the people of Illinois so they can see that I didn't let them down. This is yet another process...in what has been a long and hard journey to get that achieved." The former governor then quoted Shakespeare's Henry IV, saying: "He today who sheds blood with me shall be my brother."

Blagojevich is most likely hoping to get jurors who have been watching the news and his pleas to play all of the secretly recorded tapes the FBI made. His media blitz may have helped him out last time, when he was only found guilty on one count out of 24.

It is unknown whether Blagojevich will take the stand this time around. In the first trial, he promised that he would, but then he failed to do so. The defense did not even call any witnesses.

Blagojevich told the Chicago Tribune that he may even deliver closing arguments this time. In theory, he could get his message out without being subject to cross-examination. It is doubtful that the judge would allow that.

"He could always argue the absence of certain evidence equates to reasonable doubt. What he could not do is talk to the jury about the evidence that they didn't hear. The prosecution would be able to object and it would be very likely that objection would be sustained," Prof. Lance Northcutt, John Marshall Law School, said.

Jury selection continues Monday and into the start of next week. There is no court Friday.