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Blago trial jurors sworn in, opening statements begin

Monday, May 02, 2011

Shortly after the jury was sworn in Monday, opening statements began in the second corruption trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.

"This case is about a governor who betrayed the people of Illinois," said Chris Niewoehner, who made the opening statement for the government. "In politics, money is power. The more money the defendant had in his campaign fund, the more power he could wield as governor."

Niewoehner focused his testimony on five alleged crimes in which Blagojevich allegedly wanted "state action for personal benefit" -- U.S. Senate seat, racing bill, tollway, Children's Hospital and the school. In his statement, Niewoehner said Blagojevich was $200,000 in debt in 2008, which "explained why he tried selling the Senate seat over and over."

"The governor was shaking people down... abusing his power - to get something for himself," Niewohner said Monday.

Aaron Goldstein gave the opening statements in the Blagojevich defense. He began with a quote from William Shakespeare, "This is a tale of sound and fury that signifies nothing." He told the jury that the governor spent countless amounts of resources building a case against Blagojevich. "In the end, do you think they found a bag of cash, do you think they found a secret bank account? They found nothing because there is nothing!"

As far as the alleged Blagojevich shakedowns go, Goldstein said, "These stories don't get concocted until the government comes a knockin'."

Goldstein said, "Rod liked to talk. Rod talks and talks and talks." He said Blagojevich spoke to people he doesn't know about the Senate seat. "This man was not shaking down anyone. He was talking... Rod was right, that Senate seat was f---ing golden."

The prosecution objected several times during the opening statement. All were sustained.

Court let out just before 5 p.m. Monday. On Tuesday, FBI agent Dan Cain will be the first to testify, followed by John Harris, Blagojevich's former chief of staff.

Jury made up mostly of women

Earlier Monday, Judge James Zagel seated 12 jurors - and 6 alternates - in the second corruption trial of former governor Rod Blagojevich on Monday. The jury was picked from a pool of more 40 people and consists of 11 women and one man. The alternates are four women and 2 men.

Attorneys are also expected to make opening statements Monday.

The first Blagojevich trial last year ended with the jury reaching a verdict on only one count -- forcing the retrial. They were hung on the rest.

The seating of jurors comes after more than a week of jury selection that included five days of interviews by Judge James Zagel.

On Monday the defense asked to scrap the current jury and start again because potential jurors were familiar with the first Blagojevich trial, but Judge Zagel denied that and said, "Most of the dilemma he faces was created by himself."

By talking to the media so much, Blagojevich was "asking [jurors] to have an opinion," Judge Zagel said.

Jury selection lasted longer than expected partly because so many prospective panelists had heard of the first trial. Some had formed strong opinions about Blagojevich. Others said jury duty would pose a severe financial hardship and were dismissed.

The jurors, as identified by number::

  • Juror 103: An attractive African American woman, possibly in her 30s, who does freelance photography and has been working as a waitress job for 8 months. The college graduate used to be a programmer for a data base management company. Juror No. 103 said she gets limited news from television and didn't follow media coverage of the 1st trial, but remembers prior verdict and the taped calls.
  • Juror 120: White female, brown hair, possibly in her early 30s, who works as an administrator for a pension plan. She likes spending time with her kids, running, shopping, and cleaning. She goes online for her news.
  • Juror 124: White female who wears glasses and is possibly in her 60s. She worked in food service for 20 years and now volunteers at elementary school listening to kids read. Juror 124 gets limited news from local newspapers and TV News and said she didn't pay much attention to the 1st trial.
  • Juror 125: White female in her 40s who works as a computer tech for a junior college for 23 years. She likes horseback riding, kayaking, hiking, quilting, and guitar. Juror 125 said she doesn't have a lot of time for news and has no firm opinions on how trial should come out.
  • Juror 131: Attractive female in her 20s or 30s who left California to come here, telling the judge, "You follow your love sometimes." She has a degree in nutrition science and works for food company, specializing in bananas. She said she has no opinion about political fundraising, pays attention to politics in the media and remembers reading about the first trial.
  • Juror: 132: White female in her late 40s or early 50s. She works in her husband's video store sometimes and watches a lot of movies. She owns 5 dogs and reads the front section of the local paper about once a week and records the news, forwarding to the weather. She said she didn't pay close attention to the first trial but knew it was going on.
  • Juror 136: African American woman possibly in her 30s who works for a caterer part-time. She plays volleyball and softball, reads the "Chicago Tribune" and uses Google sometimes to search news. Juror 136 said she did not pay attention to the first trial.
  • Juror 140: White female, 30s, teaches 3 and four years olds who participated in a large march for stricter gun control and wrote letters to elected officials calling for better education legislation. She's a member of education groups, church, and a book club. She reads Daily Herald, concentrates more on local stories and doesn't watch a lot of TV. She said she read headlines about first trial but wasn't interested enough to read deeper into it.
  • Juror 142: White female, late 40s, who works at her brother's dental office. Before that she was a stay at home mom. She enjoys reading, running and traveling and doesn't watch much TV or follow the news. She said she didn't pay attention to the first trial.
  • Juror 146: White female in her 50s who has been interested in music since junior high. She plays piano and organ and is a vocalist and of the Central Music Staff for the Archdiocese of Chicago. She said in her questionnaire that politicians are human and some will put their interests first.
  • Juror 149: Woman in her 40s who is unemployed and likes painting, arts and crafts, and dancing. She did not follow Blagojevich's first trial, but remembers the defendant.
  • Juror 174: White male in his 50s who does on-call work 2 to 3 times a week and receives unemployment. He enjoys sports, model railroading and travel. Juror 174 reads the Sunday Tribune for sports and ads and watches some news at night and uses internet, but not really for news. He said he heard of the Blagojevich case but didn't really follow it.
  • Juror 179: White female in her 30s from Carol Stream who works as a librarian and has two degrees -- one in computers and then an advanced degree in library science. She loves her job. She wrote a letter to elected official to release funds for libraries and likes swimming, running, biking, knitting and walking her dog. She gets her news from internet. After found out she was called for this jury she read some things about it because she was curious and didn't follow the first trial.
  • Juror 181 White female in her 60s who retired last July. She watches her grandkids, lunches with girlfriends, and cleans closets that haven't been cleaned in 23 years. She said she is not really into news and uses internet for e-mail. Didn't pay close attention to first trial, read a little bit about this round.
  • Juror 184: Hispanic male in his 30s who works two jobs: as an employee service rep for McDonald's Corporation that deals with benefits/payroll issues and also as a person who checks people in at a gym at Swedish Covenant. He gets news from newspapers, internet and phone apps.
  • Juror 190: White female in her 40s with a degree in accounting who spent 17 years in IT. She considers music a hobby. Her husband volunteered for the Blagojevich campaign when he ran for Congress before they were married and both donated some money to campaigns. She watches local 10pm news, hops on the internet sometimes and watches the Colbert Report and the Daily Show. She has some interest in the political process and said, "I honestly believe I would make my decision based on the facts."
  • Juror 191: White female, late 40s or early 50s, who worked as a dental assistant for 2 years and used to work in cafeteria service at school. She believes politicians aren't doing a very good job. She enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, and exercising. She gets a little news from the 10pm newscast, listens to the radio in the morning and gets some news online. She said she had heard about the case before and read and saw headlines on the first trial.
  • Juror 192: White man, in his 30s, who works in manufacturing making aerosol cans. He likes playing with his three kids and gets news from the internet, mostly sports. He said he heard about Blagojevich's' first trial and said, "I don't believe everything I read."
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