Inside Blagojevich jury deliberations

Jurors in second trial of former Illinois governor deliver resounding conviction.

June 28, 2011

(WBEZ/Bill Healy)
(WBEZ/Bill Healy)
Blagojevich jurors leaving the Dirksen federal building from the basement parking garage.
(WBEZ/Bill Healy)
WBEZ reporter Robert Wildeboer talks to two alternate jurors from the Blagojevich retrial.

After delivering their sweeping conviction of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Monday, jurors took a few minutes to talk to reporters. 

They convicted Blagojevich on 17 of the 20 corruption charges.  It's a vastly different outcome than the one reached by the first Blagojevich jury, which convicted on one minor count and was deadlocked on everything else.  This second jury hopes their overwhelmingly guilty verdict sends a message to Illinois politicians.

In high-profile federal cases, court administrators will sometimes make a courtroom available where jurors can talk to reporters if they so choose.  There's only one television camera and one microphone for radio stations, an attempt to make the whole experience less intimidating.

In Blagojevich's first trial, none of the jurors talked at court, and as a result reporters started tracking them down at their homes that evening.  In an apparent attempt to avoid a repeat, Judge James Zagel seems to have suggested it might not be a bad idea for jurors to get it over with.  All of them made themselves available for a 21 minute Q and A, and the forewoman even started with a prepared statement.  "As a jury, we have felt privileged to be part of our federal judicial system," she said.

The jurors spent nine days deliberating, but the forewoman, a retired church musician and liturgist, says it's not because they were arguing.  She says they carefully went through each of the 20 counts.  "Throughout the process we were very respectful of each other's views and opinions, and as a result we feel confident we have reached a fair and just verdict."

They found Blagojevich guilty on 17 counts of trying to use his office to enrich himself, but they still kind of liked him.  Juror 103 (the court hasn't released the jurors names yet but they're expected to do so Tuesday morning) spent a week listening to Blagojevich testify.  She sat in the jury box in the front row, closest to the witness stand.  As Blagojevich walked up to the stand he would often mouth or whisper a hello, or a "how ya doin" to her.  He also jokingly rolled his eyes at her when attorneys were taking too long dealing with issues at sidebar.

Juror 103 said that connection "Made it, I wouldn't say it made it a bit harder but because he was personable it made it hard to separate that from what we actually had to do as jurors, you know, we had to put aside the fact that whether we liked him or didn't like him and just go by the evidence that was presented to us."

Another juror echoed the sentiment that Blagojevich is more than just a caricature.  "We know he's human, he has a family, and it was very difficult and there were many times we would talk and say, or I would say, here's all the evidence, and I'd come in thinking okay, he's not guilty and then all of a sudden, gosh darn you Rod, you did it again, I mean he proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty, so it was very difficult. I mean we, I really tried to just try to find everything I could to make him not guilty but the proof was there."

But not everyone was smitten by the former governor.  One juror said she felt he was manipulative and an alternate juror said she felt Blagojevich could remember everything for his lawyers but then seemed to forget everything when the prosecutors were asking the questions.

In the end, the jurors agreed that Blagojevich committed crimes and they said that was made clear from the governor's phone calls, which were secretly recorded by the FBI.  Jurors said the easiest counts to convict on included the allegations that Blagojevich tried to cash in on the ability to appoint Barack Obama's successor in the U.S. Senate.  And they didn't buy the defense claim that Blagojevich was just talking and throwing around ideas.  One said, "He was being tried on attempting and not committing the crime and when you say you're going to float an idea as opposed to asking someone to do it, that's where and there was several times where he said you know, do it, push that, get this done, and I think that's where you cross the line of just floating an idea and actually doing it."

After talking to reporters for 21 minutes, a court employee brought the questioning to an end, and the jurors made their way to the basement of the federal court building and got into a 15-passenger van that took them to various train stations.  A half dozen got out near Union Station and they hugged on the sidewalk outside the idling van.  Two of the women were actually alternate jurors who came downtown just to hear the verdict.  They didn't participate in deliberations, something they're still stewing about.  "You know after you've been sitting through that for several weeks, I mean I had four notebooks full of notes, I was ready to deliberate and I knew what I wanted to say in deliberations, so unfortunately we never got that chance. But I will say I don't think I would have done anything differently than what they chose," said juror 190.

The two part ways outside an entrance to Union Station, giving each other yet another hug.  The say they love each other and promise to see each other again, but they are both anxious to catch their trains, and Juror 190 is also anxious to finally talk to her family about the forbidden topic that's consumed her life since she was picked for jury service two months ago.