Roughly 150 potential jurors in the retrial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich were filling out questionnaires Wednesday, and lawyers were expected to start formal jury questioning on Thursday.
The pool of potential jurors filled out questionnaires Wednesday on the second floor of the Dirksen Federal Building, not in the courtroom. Lawyers for both sides will take them overnight to look at them, and then on Thursday jurors will be brought in for questioning. Blagojevich plans to attend the questioning, his spokesperson said.
The process may take longer this trial because the questionnaire is longer. It includes questions about how much exposure potential jurors had to coverage of the first trial.
Attorneys can use peremptory challenges to eliminate potential jurors without needing to provide a reason. The prosecution has nine such challenges, the defense has 13. Lawyers may also challenge candidates on cause.
The lawyers will narrow the pool down to 18 jurors -- 12 regular jurors and six alternates. During the first trial, it took roughly 120 potential jurors to get down to the 18 that were seated.
Blagojevich is not required to be in court during the jury selection process, but may be in court when questioning begins.
Experts say trials can be won and lost on jury selection. The juror who was the sole not-guilty vote on the charge that Blagojevich tried to sell Obama’s Senate seat during the first trial told the Chicago Tribune she has no regrets about her refusal to convict the former governor.
Opening statements could begin mid next week.
There are expected to be some changes to the retrial from Blagojevich’s first trial, during which a federal jury convicted Blagojevich on one count, but could not reach a verdict on 23 corruption charges.
One major change is the ex-governor is without the services of his lead attorney Sam Adam Jr. Since Blagojevich used his entire campaign fund to pay for attorneys in his first trial, he will have to use public funds to pay for this trial. He is limited to two attorneys and one paralegal this time around – down from 14 attorneys and seven paralegals at his first trial.
Prosecutors are also expected to change their case based on the response from the jury in the first trial, who complained the case was overly complicated. There is speculation the prosecution will also change the order of witnesses, perhaps swapping Lon Monk from the first witness for John Harris , who may be more clean cut and likeable to the jury.
The prosecution also dropped the racketeering charges, which could have seized Blagojevich’s campaign fund. For one, it makes the case less complicated, but also, the campaign fund is now empty after paying for Blagojevich’s lawyers during the first trial.
It’s unclear if Blagojevich will take the stand in his retrial. He promised he would from the beginning of his first trial, then shocked attorneys when he changed his mind and the defense rested without calling him. His brother, Rob Blagojevich, who was a codefendant in the first case, was widely considered an excellent witness in his defense during the first trial, but he was not being retried and was not expected to testify.
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