Blagojevich the unknown variable at today's sentencing
Updated 11/6/11 at 9:27 a.m.
Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich didn't say much as he left his Chicago home en route to his sentencing hearing in federal court Tuesday.
Blagojevich was greeted by a crowd of media when he walked out of his house Tuesday. Reporters shouted questions about the sentencing hearing, but the normally talkative Blagojevich didn't respond.
He did, however, comment when someone asked him about Chicago Cubs legend Ron Santo. Blagojevich indicated he was pleased that Santo had finally made it into the Hall of fame.
Blagojevich was convicted earlier this year on 18 corruption counts, including trying to auction off President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat.
Much of Tuesday's hearing will be a repeat of what attorneys have already argued in written motions filed with the court but there is one unknown variable: the governor himself.
Blagojevich will get a chance to address the court and former federal prosecutor Dave Weisman said Blagojevich should read a prepared statement and keep it short.
"If you haven't thought through and kind of critically analyzed what you're gonna say you tend to start to say things that hurt you like, 'I'm really not guilty,' which acceptance of responsibility is one of the things the judge should factor in and if he starts to go down that road that's gonna hurt him," said Weisman.
Last week Blagojevich's defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said the governor would not be reading from a prepared statement.
If Judge James Zagel settles on a sentence Wednesday of more than a decade, that would make it one of the stiffest penalties imposed for corruption in a state with a long history of crooked politics.
Prosecutors will ask Zagel to imprison the twice-elected governor for 15 to 20 years, arguing he has not only shirked all responsibility for his crimes but repeatedly thumbed his nose at the U.S. justice system.
Blagojevich has already paid a price in public ridicule and financial ruin, the defense argues in proposing a term of just a few years. They also seem bent on an approach judges often frown upon at the sentencing stage: Continuing to insist their client is innocent.
Both sides could finish their pitches to Zagel during Tuesday's hearing, which was moved to a large ceremonial courtroom to accommodate expected crowds. But Zagel says he'll wait until Wednesday to pronounce a sentence — possibly so he can sleep on it.
The 70-year-old judge, who played a judge in the 1989 movie "Music Box," must answer nuanced questions according to complex sentencing algebra, including whether any good Blagojevich accomplished as governor counterbalances the bad.
In describing the humiliation his family has faced, the defense cited Blagojevich's appearances on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice," where he struggled to use a cellphone, and his wife, Patti, eating a tarantula on the reality show, "I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!"
After sentencing, Zagel will likely give Blagojevich weeks before he must report to prison. Once there, the man heard scoffing on FBI wiretaps about earning a low six-figure salary would have to take a prison job — possibly scrubbing toilets — at just 12 cents an hour.
Blagojevich's sentencing comes just days before his 55th birthday and three years to the week of his Dec. 9, 2008, arrest.
The jury deadlocked in his first trial, agreeing on just one of 24 counts — that Blagojevich lied to the FBI. Jurors at his recent retrial convicted him on 17 of 20 counts, including bribery.