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Opening statements heard in Blago trial

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A federal prosecutor said Rod Blagojevich is a politician who used his position for personal gains, but his defense attorney said the former governor "didn't take a dime."

Opening statements were heard Tuesday afternoon in Blagojevich's corruption trial. They wrapped up around 4:45 p.m.

Speaking first, federal prosecutor Carrie E. Hamilton said Blagojevich was part of "a series of illegal shakedowns." She said Blagojevich was trying to use his power of government to "get something of personal benefit for himself."

Blagojevich, who is accused of trying to trade or sell the U.S. Senate seat left vacant when Pres. Barack Obama moved into the White House and plotting to turn his power as governor into a moneymaking scheme for himself and insiders, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

"In those instances where he should have been asking, 'What about the people of Illinois' he was asking, 'What about me?'," said Hamilton.

Hamilton began by telling jurors that in 2008, Children's Memorial Hospital was trying to get money from the state. Blagojevich agreed to commit millions of dollars, she said, "but there was a catch."

"Now that he decided to help the hospital, he wanted to be sure the hospital helped him," she said. "In politics money is power. And part of the plan was to build up the campaign fund knowing it was more power they would have."

Hamilton continues, they were trying to say "pay up or no state action." She said Blagojevich would sometimes try to be more clever with his words, "but no matter what precise words were used they were trying to do a shakedown."

When discussing the tape recordings made of Blagojevich's conversations with while allegedly looking to fill the Senate seat, Hamilton said, "you will hear him speak in vivid terms how valuable this senate seat was for him. He says on the tape, 'I got this thing and it's f---ing golden and I'm not going to give it up for f---ing nothing."

As Hamilton wrapped up her opening statements she said to the jury, "We are asking you to return the only verdict consistent with the evidence in this case... guilty as charged on all counts."

Next with opening statements was the attorney for the former governor's brother, Robert Blagojevich. Robert Blagojevich is a co-defendant in the case. The 54-year-old from Nashville pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged plan to sell the Senate seat and plotting to illegally squeeze a racetrack owner for a hefty contribution to the Blagojevich campaign fund.

"Robert Blagojevich is not about money," said his attorney, Michael Ettinger. "He loves his brother even though they aren't close."

Ettinger said Robert Blagojevich "never shook down anybody" and asked the jury "to do justice to this fine man, this just man."

The former governor's defense attorney was last with the opening statements. Sam Adam said "that man there is as honest as the day is long and you will know it there in your gut."

Adam said Blagojevich will take the stand and address the court. He said the Blagojevich's financial problems prove one thing- that the former governor is not corrupt.

Adam continued to say, "He's broke. Not a dime. Not a penny. He's broke... Do you know why he's broke? The evidence will show... he didn't take a dime."

Adam said Blagojevich had bad judgment when it came to choosing those he trusted, mentioning by name Tony Rezko, who was convicted of skimming campaign contributions and seeking personal kickbacks from companies, and Lon Monk.

"This is the only place where a C student can get the A student to do his work. And Rezko took advantage of that," said Adam.

...He's a big idea guy, that's all he is. He can get up there and scream about big ideas. 'I got the big ideas, you guys do it.' Those guys took advantage of that."

Adam ended by saying, "I'll be begging you for a not guilty. When you hear those witnesses, I don't think I'll have to ask you twice."

Jurors sworn in Tuesday morning

Judge James Zagel swore in the 12 jurors and six alternates Tuesday morning. They broke for lunch before opening statements began at about 1:15 p.m.

The jury is made up of 11 women and 7 men. Thirteen of the jurors are white, four are black and one is Asian. The youngest is a white male in his 20s who works at an electronic retail store. The oldest is a retired black male who worked for the U.S. postal service. The group also includes a retired Navy commander and a retired Marine, who had a hip replacement and can only sit for 20-30 minutes at a time.

In his instructions, Zagel told jurors that the burden of proof is on the government. And he told them to keep an open mind and not to form conclusions until they begin deliberating at the end of the trial.

In a last ditch effort, lawyers for Blagojevich filed motion earlier Tuesday morning that charges against Blagojevich should be dropped. They argued that the government criminalized what was ordinary political discussion by the ex-governor. They say "he never formed the intent to commit a criminal act" and that the charges against him violate his right of freedom of speech.

The judge postponed an immediate decision on the defense's request and moved ahead with the trial.

On his way into court Tuesday morning, the ex-governor thanked the prospective jury members for their upcoming service -- which is expected to last roughly 4 months - and he called this a historic day when he can finally reveal what "I've been dying to tell you for the last year and a half." (Read Blagojevich's full statement below)

As soon as the jury was seated and sworn in, opening statements began.

The defense asked Judge Zagel if the court could have the opening statements completed by 5:30 because the Blagojevich's daughter has a graduation ceremony this evening. Judge Zagel told defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. "You are going last. You might want to shorten your own statement."

On Monday, Adam had asked for 2 ½ hours to give his opening statement. Judge Zagel reluctantly gave Adam1 hour and 45 minutes.

Both the main courtroom and an overflow room were packed to capacity as opening arguments began.

Blagojevich's comments to the media Tuesday at 9:45 a.m.:

"Let me be very brief, because I certainly want to be on time to court. I'm not governor anymore so I have to be on time... Anyway, Patty and I are happy this day has finally come. Again, like I've said before it's very difficult when you've been falsely accused of things you didn't do, when you've been lied about, when the people have been lied to, you in the media have been lied to, you in the media have been lied to. The government has hidden behind their lies through court action, sealing evidence and keeping it in a lock box and preventing it from being heard and let out to show what I've said is true and what they've said is not true.

We would like to tell the men and women of the jury how grateful Patti and I are for their service. Ultimately we live in a free country and a democracy because of the jury system. The men and women of the jury who will be picked to serve on the jury will be giving their time and part of their summer if not all of their summer to do their public service and judge a member of their community. They'll be the ones to decide the truth of this and will ultimately show what has happened here.

This is a historic day. Frankly, you'll be able to hear the things I've been dying to tell you for the last year and a half and it starts with opening statements."

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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