Opening Statements Begin in Rod Blagojevich Retrial - FOX 32 News Chicago

Opening Statements Begin in Rod Blagojevich Retrial


The prosecution and defense gave their opening statement Monday afternoon in the second trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Complete Rod Blagojevich Trial Coverage >>

Key Points:

  • Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner delivered the opening statements for the prosecution Monday afternoon, telling the jury they would hear about five shakedowns attempted by Blagojevich.
  • Aaron Goldstein delivered the opening argument for the defense. He asked the jury to think about what Blagojevich got at the end of each alleged shakedown. "Rod got nothing," Goldstein said.
  • Blagojevich thought Goldstein did an excellent job, but "when I heard the prosecutor, I thought I'd stumbled into the wrong courtroom because the person he was talking about is not me."
  • The final jury was chosen Monday, consisting of 18 members of the jury pool.  There will be 12 jurors and six alternates.
  • Judge James Zagel granted the prosecution's request to admit footage of Blagojevich's appearance on the Rachel Maddow show as evidence in the trial.
  • Monday morning, the Blagojevich defense team filed a motion asking the judge strike the jury and begin the selection process anew, arguing jury selection did not sufficiently determine potential jurors were unbiased. Judge James Zagel denied the motion.
  • The sometimes sardonic but normally subdued Goldstein, 36, has limited experience in federal court. Early in his career, he was known for defending clients charged with drunk driving.
  • At the last trial, the opening was done by Sam Adam Jr. Adam shouted and cracked jokes as he paced the courtroom.
  • Blagojevich faces 20 counts, including allegations that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.


UPDATE:  5:30  p .m.
Blagojevich said he thought Goldstein did an excellent job, and noted that Goldstein's "proud" mother was in the courtroom.

"When I heard the prosecutor, I thought I'd stumbled into the wrong courtroom, because the person he was talking about was not me," Blagojevich said. "It was very painful, very hurtful."


UPDATE:  4:57  p .m.
The two competing themes for the prosecution and defense are clear. The prosecution says that each crime was "complete" at the demand stage; Blagojevich didn't actually have to get what he wanted to break the law. The defense says that Blagojevich got nothing at the end of each shakedown, and that all he was doing was "talking," not breaking the law.

After a roughly 50 minute opening statement by the defense, Judge Zagel adjourned court for the day.  He said the jury would discuss what they would like their schedule for the trial to be and that would be taken into account.

The prosecution will call its first witness Tuesday, FBI Special Agent Daniel Cain. They expect that testimony to take half a day, and then they would begin questioning John Harris.


UPDATE:  4:45 p .m.
Goldstein: "Rod talked constantly... Rod likes to talk."


UPDATE:  4:30 p .m.
In a guarded but passionate opening, defense attorney Aaron Goldstein told the jury to ask themselves what exactly Blagojevich got at the end of each alleged shakedown; he said the answer will be: “Rod got nothing!”

“This is a tale of sound and fury signifying nothing,” Goldstein said, quoting Shakespeare.

The government dedicated an enormous amount of resources to building a case on Blagojevich, Goldstein said, and at the end they didn’t find a “bag of cash,” or anything amounting to an exchange having been made.



UPDATE:  4:00 p .m.
The prosecution wrapped up opening statements in 55 minutes. Defense attorney Aaron Goldstein is giving opening statements on Blagojevich's behalf.


UPDATE:  3:45 p .m.
The defendant did not get what he demanded in those five shakedowns, Niewoehner said, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. Either the FBI arrested him before he finished what he started or somebody wouldn’t play ball. The crimes were complete every time the defendant attempted to exchange his state power for a personal benefit, Niewoehner said, even if the exchange was never made.


UPDATE:  3:30 p .m.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner boiled down the case against Blagojevich into five alleged crimes: the U.S. Senate seat shakedown, the racetrack shakedown, the Tollway shakedown, the Children's Memorial Hospital shakedown, and the school shakedown that targeted Rahm Emanuel.

"Sometimes he was as subtle as a freight train," Niewoehner said.



UPDATE:  3:05 p .m.
The prosecution's opening statements are being delivered by Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner.


UPDATE:  2:49 p .m.
Court was called back into session after lunch. In the court building cafeteria, Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, sat with a large group. On the other side of the cafeteria sat James Matsumoto, the jury foreman from the first Blagojevich trial. He has been to court as a spectator for the retrial, saying he feels his jury left unfinished business.

The jury was sworn in by Judge James Zagel and he gave the jury preliminary instructions.


UPDATE:  1:27 p .m.
After choosing the final jury, Judge Zagel addressed the defense request to admit comments Blagojevich made in an interview with Rachel Maddow in which Blagojevich said it would be wrong to trade the senate seat of President Obama.

The prosecution argued that the defense argued in the first trial that Blagojevich didn’t think he was breaking the law when he discussed options in regards to the senate seat, but what he said on the show contradicts that.

Over objections from the defense, Judge Zagel said he would admit the evidence, but he noted the defense could object to the relevance of the evidence when it is presented in court.

Court then broke for lunch and Zagel said he would swear in the jury after lunch. He hoped to get both sides’ opening statements in Monday afternoon.


UPDATE:  1:15 p .m.
Judge Zagel announced the 18 jurors selected to serve for the retrial. They include 15 women and three men. There is a computer programmer, pension plan administrator, food service worker, computer technician, dietician, part-time video store clerk, a teacher, a dental lab technician, a vocalist, a nursing student, an unemployed sales manager, a librarian, a retiree, an IT manager, a dental assistant and a manufacturer of aerosol cans.

The potential juror who had Blagojevich saying “F---ing golden” as his ringtone was not on the final jury, but a woman who said she watched a lot of Judge Judy was.


UPDATE:  12:45 p .m.
Zagel returned from a break and called the counsel to the lectern. He said he would deal with the prosecution request to admit statements Blagojevich made on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC after jury selection.

Zagel said on the jury questionnaire, one juror did not know for how many days her employer would pay her during jury duty, and it was now clear that would be 10 days. Zagel said he did not believe jury duty would be a financial hardship to the individual as she is fully employed and has a fully-employed spouse. There were no objections to retaining the juror and she was not removed.

Zagel then brought up a veteran who had been wounded in action and suffered from post traumatic stress disorder but still wanted to serve, calling for thoughts from attorneys. Zagel said this juror would not be excused either, and that services could likely be provided to him as needed.

The judge then got to the defense motion to strike the jury panel, reading from the motion a quote from a dismissed juror on WBBM Radio about the potential jurors discussing the case despite being told not to. The woman said in the interview that potential jurors were biased and Blagojevich could not get a fair trial.

Zagel said he examined the dismissed juror and determined all but six of the potentially biased jurors were dismissed from duty. Zagel said he also interviewed the six potential jurors in question who were remaining in the jury pool. Only one juror recalled hearing the statements being made and established she would be able to disregard those statements. None of the others remembered the conversations.

The judge said that the process seems to have worked; there were a number of jurors with strong opinions and they were excused. Zagel also noted that this was an unusual case because usually, the defendant is kept silent while awaiting trial.

In this case, Zagel said, Blagojevich invited public opinion by repeatedly saying “I am innocent’ instead of saying “wait for the evidence.” Zagel also said one of his attorneys even stated after the trial that Blagojevich was speaking directly to the public. Since Zagel believed Blagojevich was intentionally inviting the public to have strong opinions and that what kept the story alive in the media was Blagojevich’s own desire to speak publically, Zagel felt the problem is one of Blagojevich’s own making.

Zagel said he was confident the remaining members of the jury pool could make up their minds on the case in an unbiased way. He also said he would not follow the example of a judge cited in the motion who dismissed every potential juror with an opinion and that he was not required by law to do so.

Zagel denied the motion to strike the jury pool.


UPDATE:  11:49  a.m.
Judge Zagel took up the second part of the defense's evidence motion, which asked the judge to bar all evidence regarding the 2006 horse racing bill that Blagojevich allegedly used to shakedown a race track owner. They argued it was necessary given that the judge ruled the defense cannot present evidence Blagojevich signed it in 2008 after his arrest.

The judge said that the issue with the bill was not whether Blagojevich would sign it at all, but that the track owner lost money as long as the bill was not passed, so the length of time the bill was held up was the issue focused on in the charge. Zagel denied the motion. Sorosky argued the jury will not be presented with the truth because they will believe the bill was never signed. Zagel replied that the prosecution was not presenting the charge to imply it was never signed, but rather argue that the crime occurred when Blagojevich delayed the signing. He adhered to his ruling.

Zagel then said another matter needed to be addressed and court would resume in five minutes.


UPDATE:  11:34  a.m.
Court was called into session after an extended meeting in judge’s chambers. Judge James Zagel called for arguments on the defense motions filed Monday. The judge began with “self-serving interpretations post investigation,” which refers to testimony by Lon Monk and others on their “understanding” of what Blagojevich said to them. The prosecution argued that barring testimony on “understanding” is unnecessary since the issue could be addressed on cross-examination.

Blagojevich defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said in Monk’s testimony at the first trial regarding the alleged race track shakedown, he never said an incriminating statement, and said there were “two conversations” taking place. Monk testified that he meant something different than what he technically said, according to Sorosky, and Sorosky argued Monk should not be allowed to offer an opinion on a factual statement. Sorosky argued that all of Monk’s understandings of the conversations are subject to Blagojevich, Monk and their colleagues being charged in the case, which is the reasoning behind not allowing any tapes recorded after Dec. 5, 2008 into evidence. (The judge ruled those tapes could not be used as they occurred after a published report on the wire taps, meaning Blagojevich could have been aware he was being recorded after that point.)

Judge Zagel pointed out to Sorosky that there are ways to bring tapes recorded after Dec. 5, 2008 into evidence, particularly if Blagojevich testifies. Zagel also objected to characterizing Monk’s understanding as “new”. Sorosky replied that he meant “new,” in the sense that it changed after Monk was charged with a crime and given an opportunity to testify at Blagojevich’s trial.

Zagel denied the motion.


UPDATE:  10:40  a.m.
Court has still not begun.  Room had been cleared in the courtroom for potential jurors.

The Blagojevich team filed two motions Monday morning, one asking the judge to start jury proceedings over and the other asking the judge to bar certain evidence at trial.

In the motion to strike the current jury panel , the defense team argued the jury pool was tainted. It cited an interview with a dismissed juror on WBBM radio in which the she said she believed Blagojevich could not get a fair trial and said that the potential jurors were discussing the case despite instructions to the contrary. The motion also argued that it must be determined without doubt that a juror can be impartial and unbiased, and the defense said that the jury questioning process underwent by the court had not done a sufficient job.

If the request is not granted, the motion requests a change of venue for the trail to Hammond, Ind. to draw from a different jury pool.

In the motion asking the court to bar evidence , the defense asked Judge Zagel to prevent testimony from witnesses on what they “understood” certain conversations to mean and also argued the government should not be allowed to present evidence about the 2006 horse racing bill Blagojevich allegedly held up to elicit money from a track owner. The defense said that because the court granted a government motion preventing them from presenting evidence that Blagojevich signed the bill in 2008 (after his arrest), the prosecution shouldn’t be allowed to present any evidence on it during the proceedings.


UPDATE:  9 :31  a.m.
Blagojevich has arrived at the Dirksen Federal Building. He did not say anything to the media when he arrived. Attorneys were in judge's chambers and court has not yet begun.


UPDATE:  8:31  a.m.
Blagojevich leaves his house in a white Cadillac.

Here's a summary of the charges Blagojevich faces:

The Charges: Blagojevich faces 20 charges in all -- 10 counts of wire fraud, four of attempted extortion, two of bribery, two counts of conspiracy to commit extortion and two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery. He faced 24 counts going into his first trial, but otherwise-deadlocked jurors convicted him of one count -- lying to the FBI; and to help streamline their case for the second trial, prosecutors dropped two racketeering charges and a wire fraud count.

Maximum Sentences: The bribery conspiracy counts each carry a maximum five-year prison term, the bribery charges carry a maximum 10-year sentence and all the rest of the counts -- 20 years. If convicted on all counts, Blagojevich would face a maximum prison term of 350 years -- though federal guidelines would dictate he'd get far less. He already faces a five year sentence for his lying conviction.

The Alleged Crimes: The charges derive from four alleged schemes: That Blagojevich sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat; that he tried to squeeze campaign contributions from a construction industry leader, a race track executive and the CEO of Children's Memorial Hospital; and that he attempted to extort campaign cash from the Hollywood agent brother of then-U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel by withholding grant money for a school Emanuel's district. The wire fraud charges kick in because Blagojevich's alleged schemes were executed over the telephone.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



Rod Blagojevich Scandal: More Key Players

Visit the "Who's Who" page to learn more about the former Illinois governor , his co-defendants, inner circle, the legal team and what people like President Obama , Sen. Dick Durbin and other high-profile people have to do with the case. >>

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