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Blagojevich jurors ask judge about instructions

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jurors in the trial of former governor Rod Blagojevich asked the judge for clarification of a legal issue Thursday, but gave no indication of where they are in deliberations.

The jurors -- 11 women and one man -- are in their fifth day of deliberations. They had a question for the judge about wire fraud charges, which make up 10 of the 20 charges against Blagojevich.

They asked specifically about Page 28 of the jury instructions, which reads,

To sustain the charge of wire fraud, as charged in Counts 1 through 10, the government must prove the following propositions beyond a reasonable doubt:

First, that the defendant knowingly devised or participated in a scheme to defraud the public of its right to the honest services of Rod Blagojevich or John Harris by demanding, soliciting, seeking, asking for, or agreeing to accept, a bribe in the manner described in the particular Count you are considering; Second, that the defendant did so with the intent to defraud; Third, that the scheme to defraud involved a materially false and fraudulent pretense, representation, promise, or concealment; and Fourth, that for the purpose of carrying out the scheme or attempting to do so, the defendant used or caused the use of interstate wire communications to take place in the manner charged in the particular Count you are considering.

Judge Zagel sent a note back, "I ask you to take another look at the relevant instructions. After you have done so, if you think it is necessary, I ask you to state which specific words or phrases in the 3rd proposition you believe need clarification."

What that question means is anyone's guess. Perhaps they don't agree on definitions or maybe they do and want to make sure their understanding is correct. Both defense attorneys and prosecutors are analyzing it.

"I can only tell you that both sides are reading into it both what they think it could mean, favorably to them, and they're also playing out nightmare scenarios. This is hard for the lawyers because no one knows what this means, whether it's favorable, whether they're close, they're fighting, they skipped over something and came back to it. I mean, we really don't know," Pat Collins, former prosecuting attorney, said.

The wire fraud counts are the first in the indictment. That means the jury could be halfway through their work. But it's also possible they jumped around, starting with counts they could understand.

The judge and attorneys were in chambers for half an hour, but did not release details to the media.

Jurors adjourned around 4 p.m. Thursday. They will be back Monday after a long weekend.

Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges in his corruption trial. He denies any wrongdoing.

Last year, Blagojevich was found guilty on one of 24 charges against him. The jury was hung on all others.

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