Opening Statements Monday in Blagojevich Trial - FOX 32 News Chicago

Opening Statements Monday in Blagojevich Trial


When a prosecutor and a defense attorney step forward Monday to deliver opening statements at former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's retrial, watch for something of a role reversal: The onus may be on normally straight-laced prosecutors to display a bit more flair -- and on the defense, a bit less.

After the first trial ended eight months ago with a hung jury on most charges, many questioned how prosecutors had delivered an overly complex case in a dry, just-the-facts mode that failed to persuade jurors. But so theatrical was the defense, by contrast, that the presentation by Blagojevich's lead attorney sometimes threatened to descend into farce.

Jeff Cramer, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, said that government attorneys -- while otherwise top-flight prosecutors -- may need to show a bit more emotion and tell a more compelling story to jurors this time around.

"They need to say, not just that a, b, and c events happened -- they need to convey why it is important," he said. "You may well see more moments of emotion. ... It'll more likely be a subtle change of tone, a subtle change in intonation."

There are signs prosecutors have taken such advice to heart. In the lead up to Monday's openings, for instance, the usually reserved lead prosecutor has exhibited more emotion in court than he did during the entire first trial.

Visibly angry, Reid Schar snapped at defense lawyer Sheldon Sorosky in court last week during jury selection after Sorosky suggested Schar wanted a "The Beverly Hillbillies" fan dismissed from the jury pool because he wasn't well-spoken or presentable enough.

Just what buttons lawyers will attempt to push in their openings may depend partly on who ends up in the jury box, something lawyers won't know for sure until a final selection of the 12 jurors and six alternates out of more than 40 people still in the jury pool. That is first on the trial agenda for Monday morning.

Among those in the jury pool heading in Monday was a federal probation officer, a retired auto shop owner who believed Blagojevich was guilty, a part-time rock band drummer and a Republican Party supporter who downloaded ringtones of profanity-laced quotes from Blagojevich onto his cell phone.

No matter who is in or out, the prosecution is almost certain to paint a picture of the twice-elected governor as steeped in sleaze and driven by greed. For its part, the defense is likely to concede Blagojevich could be quirky, crude and profane, but they'll also insist he never crossed the line into criminality.

Blagojevich, now 54, faces 20 charges, from attempted extortion of a children's hospital executive to conspiracy to commit bribery in a bid to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a well-paying job.

If convicted on all counts, he would face a maximum prison term of 350 years -- though sentencing guidelines would dictate that he get far less. He already faces a five year sentence for conviction on a charge that he lied to the FBI.

For the retrial, prosecutors have dropped complex racketeering charges against Blagojevich, and dropped all charges against a co-defendant at the first trial, the ex-governor's brother, Robert Blagojevich.

It's not clear which of the three government attorneys -- who also made up the core prosecution team at the first trial -- will address jurors Monday. Last year, it was Carrie Hamilton, whose refrain to jurors was that a selfish, money-hungry Blagojevich -- faced with official decisions as governor -- always asked himself, "What about me?"

Aaron Goldstein is expected to deliver the openings for the defense. The 36-year-old attorney has spent much of his career in state court, and did cross-examinations at the first trial, with openings and closing delivered by an attorney no longer on the defense, Sam Adam Jr.

Adam, to his critics, was more circus ringmaster than lawyer. He shouted, whispered and cracked jokes as he paced around the courtroom. His argument was that Blagojevich was fooled by people close to him and was a poor judge of their character -- but "didn't take a dime" of illegal money.

Adam dramatically vowed last year that Blagojevich would take the witness stand. When he ultimately never did, legal analysts viewed the promise as a tactical blunder, undermining the defense team's credibility in jurors' eyes.

After openings on Monday, prosecutors are expected to call their first witness, FBI agent Dan Cain. As he did at the outset of the first trial, he will lay the groundwork for the prosecution by explaining how the FBI carried out its secret surveillance of Blagojevich in the weeks before his Dec. 9, 2008 arrest.


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