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Blagojevich Trial: Jurors want transcript

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Monday, jurors in the corruption trial of former governor Rod Blagojevich asked for a transcript of witness testimony that relates to Count 14 -- attempted extortion.

Jurors asked Judge James Zagel for the entire testimony of Bradley Tusk, former deputy governor. The judge agreed despite an objection from the defense, which, along with prosecution, was called to the hearing. The defendants did not attend.

"I am providing [jurors] with testimony of Bradley Tusk," said Judge Zagel during an afternoon hearing. He said portions of the transcript that were dealt with outside of the presence of the jury would be blacked out. He told jurors, "In reading the transcript you should still evaluate the credibility of witness' testimony as I have previously instructed you."

Tusk took the stand on June 21. He served as deputy governor, which oversees the bill review process, for the State of Illinois from 2003 to 2006.

Tusk testified that the former governor had planned to hold up a $2 million grant to a school on the Northwest Side. That school was in the district represented by then Congressman Rahm Emanuel and Tusk's testimony was part of the government's case that Blagojevich wasn't going to free up the grant money until Emanuel's Hollywood agent brother held a fundraiser for Blagojevich.

"The grant would not be released until a fundraiser was first held," said Tusk when on the stand. Tusk said he never approached Emanuel with the request because he felt it was "unethical and illegal."

Tusk's testimony goes directly to Count 14 against Blagojevich - attempted extortion. That's among the counts that previous jury notes suggest was among those charges he jury could not agree upon.

So why is the jury asking now for transcripts of Tusk's testimony?

"They're fighting really hard to convince the one, two or three people that are holding out," said Prof. Leonard Cavise, DePaul College of Law.

"This is something that perhaps the count was close, and they're trying to sway one or two people. Again, if you're the government, you're only looking for a handful of guilty verdicts and then you can decide whether to retry or go to sentencing. This leads into possibly a verdict coming one way or another," said Jeff Cramer, former prosecutor, Kroll Associates.

A breakdown of Blagojevich jury questions

Last week, jurors sent a note to the judge indicating they had agreed on only two counts of the 24 against Blagojevich and had not considered 11 counts involving wire fraud. Neither the two counts on which jurors agree -- nor the verdicts they reached-- are known. They asked for guidance.

Judge Zagel replied Thursday that they should deliberate on those 11 wire fraud counts next.

Monday's note was the fifth time the judge has heard from the jury:

  • On July 29, the jury asked for a transcript of the prosecution's closing argument. Judge Zagel denied the request because it was not evidence.
  • On July 30, the jury asked for all transcripts of witness testimony. That was denied but the judge said he would consider specific requests.
  • On August 11, the jury asked the judge what to do if they cannot agree on counts. Judge Zagel said he needed more clarification.
  • On August 12, a jury note indicated they had agreed on only two counts and had yet to consider wire fraud. Judge Zagel told them to decide on wire fraud.
  • On August 16, the jurors asked for the Tusk testimony.
  • Blagojevich is accused of scheming to sell or trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama. He faces 24 counts in the corruption case. His brother, Robert Blagojevich, faces four counts. Both have pleaded not guilty.

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    Tags:
    rod blagojevich, local, paul meincke
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