Daily Archives: August 18, 2010

Inside The Blagojevich Jury Deliberations – Heated Arguments

August 18, 2010

BY SARAH OSTMAN AND RUMMANA HUSSAIN
Staff Reporters

Referred to by number, escorted by court marshals, they were a disciplined and orderly group that was never absent, never late, and, according to the judge, never raised their voices.

But jurors in Rod Blagojevich’s federal corruption trial paint a different picture of their deliberations — one filled with heated arguments and unbending opinions.

Ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich leaves the Federal Dirksen Building on Tuesday after hearing the verdict in his federal corruption trial. Blagojevich was convicted of only one count — lying to the FBI — out of 24 brought by prosecutors.
(Keith Hale/Sun-Times)

Jury foreman James Matsumoto talks to reporters Tuesday night.

(Tom Cruze/Sun-Times)

JURY’S OATH
“Do each of you solemnly swear (or affirm) that you will well and truly try, and true deliverance make, in the case now on trial and render a true verdict according to the law and the evidence, so help you God?”

The jurors were all “independent thinkers” with “strong personalities,” said jury foreman James Matsumoto, 66. From the start, tensions ran high.

“Some people came in headhunting,” said juror Erik Sarnello, 21. “One person said, ‘I want [Blagojevich’s] head on a plate.’ By the end, everybody was kind of logical.”

After 14 days in the jury room, the six men and six women finally acknowledged Monday they would be able to reach a unanimous verdict on only one of the 24 counts.

While some votes were split 7-5, 6-6 or 9-3, the most explosive of the charges — that Blagojevich tried to sell Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat — came down to a single holdout vote, jurors said.

That one holdout — a woman whom her colleagues declined to single out — felt she had not gotten the “clear-cut evidence” she needed to convict, Sarnello said.

“Say it was a murder trial — she wanted the video,” Sarnello said. “She wanted to hear [Blagojevich] say, ‘I’ll give you this for that.’ . . . For some people, it was clear. Some people heard that. But for some, it wasn’t clear.”

Matsumoto said jurors were overwhelmed by the number of counts and the amount of evidence in the case. While the secret recordings were “damning,” he said, it wasn’t enough for all the jurors.

“The lack of a smoking gun was one of the major flaws,” the foreman said.

Sarnello said jurors were also frustrated by a lack of order in the government’s case.

“It confused some people, just the way they presented it,” said Sarnello, a student from Itasca. Prosecutors “didn’t really follow a timeline at all.”

So in the jury room, jurors created their own timelines on large sheets of paper, charting out each of the years from 2001 to the ex-governor’s 2008 arrest.

They postponed discussing a list of 11 wire fraud counts, reasoning that these charges were related to other topics they were already talking about. Instead, they focused on the most explosive Senate seat charges.

Matsumoto, a Vietnam veteran and retired videotape librarian who voted the Blagojevich brothers guilty on all counts, said by day 14, the jury was “exhausted.”

“The deliberations were constant from the time we went into the jury room until [Tuesday],” Matsumoto said. “I kind of enjoyed it, the trial part. But as soon as we started deliberations, it was very troubling, and very hectic and exhausting.”

The government on Tuesday said it would retry the case against the Blagojevich brothers. If that’s the case, Matsumoto said, prosecutors should focus more on the Senate seat charges and simplify the rest.

He also said he would have liked to hear from convicted businessman and Republican political insider Stuart Levine, a Blagojevich appointee who wasn’t called to testify. But Matsumoto and Sarnello both said the ex-governor’s failure to testify didn’t affect their votes.

After a summer in a Dirksen Federal Building filled with media, some jurors on Tuesday evening had clearly had enough.

Cynthia Parker, 60, drove into the garage of her town house in Gurnee without stopping to talk. Before closing the garage door, she was asked if she agreed with the verdict.

“I have nothing to say,” Parker said. “I’m tired, and I’m sick.”

The father of Jacklyn Ferino, 28, of Crestwood, said it was unlikely she would come home Tuesday.

His daughter “is just tired and needed a break,” Tom Ferino said.

Juror Jesse Blue, 72, pulled into the garage of his Matteson home at 6:50 p.m. and declined to talk to reporters waiting for him.

“I have nothing to say,” he said, adding that he wasn’t happy with the outcome. “It’s been a long day.”

Sarnello, a student at a community college who voted Blagojevich guilty on all but two counts, said he didn’t register for fall classes because he thought the jury would still be deliberating in October.

That gives him some time to rethink his career plans. He planned a future in law enforcement but said this trial changed his mind.

“I might be a lobbyist after this,” he said. “I’ve seen all the money they make.”

Contributing: Irv Leavitt, Michael Drakulich, Joe Biesk, Cheryl V. Jackson, Dan Rozek, Rosemary Sobol, Kim Janssen, Art Golab, Steve Warmbir

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‘No Smoking Gun’ Says Blagojevich Jury – ‘We Were Largely Divided’

Blagojevich jurors say the case lacked a smoking gun — were largely divided

By

Natasha Korecki

on August 17, 2010 10:05 PM


Reporting with Sarah Ostman

Rod Blagojevich’s jury says the case lacked a smoking gun: Read story, click here.

BLAGOJEVICH JUROR: There was one hold out. We were 11-1 for conviction

By

Natasha Korecki

on August 17, 2010 7:39 PM


The Associated Press is reporting that juror Erik Sarnello says there was one female hold out juror.

CHICAGO (AP) ‹ A juror in the corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich says the
panel was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of convicting the former Illinois
governor of trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s former Senate
seat.
Juror Erik Sarnello of Itasca, Ill said a female holdout “just didn’t see
what we all saw.” The 21-year-old Sarnello said the counts around the Senate
seat were “the most obvious.”
The jury convicted Blagojevich Tuesday of a lesser charge, lying to federal
agents, but could not reach an agreement on the remaining 23 charges.
Prosecutors have pledged to retry the case as soon as possible.

Rod Blagojevich: “Patti and I are going to continue the fight”

By

Sarah Ostman

on August 17, 2010 6:50 PM

Reporting with Natasha Korecki, Dave McKinney, Chris Fusco and Abdon Pallasch

Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Rod Blagojevich blasted U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and his team of prosecutors and vowed to carry on the fight to prove his innocence. His wife, Patti, wore a somber look as the two held hands:

“The federal government — and this particular prosecutor — did everything he could to target me and prosecute me, persecute me, put pressure on my family, try to take our home, take me away me from our kids, arrest me,” Blagojevich said. “That very prosecutor said that he was stopping a ‘crime spree’ before it happened. Well, this jury just showed you . . . notwithstanding the fact that the government through everything but the kitchen sink at me, that, on every count except for one – on every charge except for one — they could not prove that I did anything wrong.”

The lone exception, Blagojevich said, was a “nebulous charge from five years ago” — lying to the FBI.

“The FBI, and I agreed to that interview, refused to allow me to have a court reporter in the room. I want the people of Illinois to know I did not lie to the FBI. I’ve told the truth from the very beginning.

“This is a persecution. We have police officers who are being gunned down on the street. We have children who can’t play in front of their homes in the summertime because they might get gunned down. And we have a prosecutor who has wasted . . . tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to keep persecuting me, persecuting my family, take me away from my little girls, as well as take my home away from us.”

“They threw everything they could at me — 24 charges that I’ve said from the beginning are false, and the jury agreed that the government did not prove its case.

“And let me also point out that we didn’t even put a defense on, and the government didn’t prove its case. Patti and I are going to continue the fight, because this fight is a lot bigger than just me and my family.”

Blagojevich leaves the courthouse to boos and cheers

By

Natasha Korecki

on August 17, 2010 5:58 PM


A huge mob scene formed downstairs. Dozens and dozens of people stood watch outside the courthouse and inside — waiting to hear news of the verdict and to catch a glimpse of Rod Blagojevich.

The former governor left the courthouse minutes ago after proclaiming the prosecution’s case — which he estimated to cost millions of dollars — a waste of taxpayer money.

Blagojevich worked the crowd, shaking hands, doing high-fives with the crowd and waving outside to the dismay of his wife, Patti, who yanked him by the arm and told him to move it along.

The prosecution is now addressing the media.

Blagojevich jurors tired, not speaking to the media

By

Sarah Ostman

on August 17, 2010 5:18 PM

Reporting with Natasha Korecki, Dave McKinney, Chris Fusco and Abdon Pallasch

The Blagojevich jurors are leaving the courthouse without addressing the media, saying they are tired after a long day of deliberating.

It was thought that they might hold a press conference in one of the courtrooms here, but that doesn’t appear to be happening now.

Robert Blagojevich: “I feel bad for my brother.”

By

Sarah Ostman

on August 17, 2010 5:04 PM

Reporting with Natasha Korecki, Dave McKinney, Chris Fusco and Abdon Pallasch

Shortly after learning that he would have to withstand a re-trial, Robert Blagojevich told the media that he would once again proclaim his innocence in what he called a “surreal” experience.

“I have lived through the most surreal experience anyone could live through,” Robert Blagojevich told a crowd of reporters minutes ago in the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Building.

Robert again described his prosecution as a “slow bleed,” both emotionally and financially.

But despite it all, he said, “I don’t feel in any way deterred in my ability to articulate my innocence,” adding that he would not cut a plea deal.

Robert also expressed sympathy for his ex-governor brother, who was just convicted of making false statements to the FBI.

“I feel bad for my brother,” Robert said. “I feel bad for him.”

Asked about his relationship with Rod, Robert responded, “I don’t comment on my relationship with my brother.” In the past, he’s been pretty open about it, saying their relationship is “strained.”

Robert’s attorney, Michael Ettinger, said he would again explore the possibility of getting Robert his own trial when he is tried again — separate from his brother’s.

Ettinger said Judge Zagel has already shot down that request once. The attorney also said he might change up the case for a retrial by calling additional witnesses.

Robert said he “absolutely” felt he made the right decision in testifying, and sees no reason why he wouldn’t testify again in the retrial.

“I’ve got a little practice under my belt now,” he said.

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