Posted by Edmond Geary | Posted in Celebrity crimes, Graft, White collar crime | Posted on 15-06-2010
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s trial has begun. Recently, the first day of jury selection (voir dire) for the federal corruption trial took place. The Pepperdine University law graduate is accused in 24 counts of trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Oboma when he resigned his Senate seat. U.S. District Judge James Zagel began screening a pool of almost 100 potential jurors. The judge got through 29 potential jurors. Their identities are not public. They are addressed by number.
Blagojevich was in celebrity mode-or maybe running-for-office-mode. Smiling broadly, he waved and shook hands with supporters when he arrived at the courthouse. He posed for cell phone camera photos for some on request, as his wife, Patti, tugged on his arm to get into the courthouse. “The truth shall set you free,” he said to reporters. He kissed one supporter who held up a sign supporting him. He hugged one man who said, “God bless you, Governor. I’m praying for you.”
Inside the courthouse, Patti stepped up to reporters and television cameras and told everyone of Blagojevich’s innocence. She thanked everyone who has supported her husband since his impeachment and said she was glad to get the trial underway.
The ex-governor’s older brother, Robert, of Nashville, Tennessee, also accused, arrived and entered the courthouse outside the roped-off area reserved for the ex-governor, and sat at a separate table in the courtroom. He left for lunch while the ex-governor and his wife ate sandwiches in the courtroom.
The judge spent considerable time inquiring about the jurors’ exposure to publicity about the case. Most had seen or heard something, but they said they could nevertheless be fair. This selection process is expected to continue for several days.
Jury selection is a critical portion of any trial. Likely defense lawyers will be looking for jurors, probably blue collar, who would identify with their client’s background from humble roots. It is common belief that most jurors buy into the prosecution’s view from the beginning in the belief that a defendant must be guilty if he is accused. It is that bias that criminal defense lawyers fight from the first minute to the last minute of any trial. Defense lawyers focus on the requirement for unanimity for a verdict, and one of Blagojevich’s attorneys, Sam Adams, Jr., is known to focus on persuading just a certain few members of the jury during a trial.
Judge Zagel questioned an algebra teacher, a legal assistant, a computer lab technician, a retired customer service representative, and an insurance actuary. When the customer service representative said she had trouble remembering words and names. “Welcome to the club,” the judge retorted. He asked another, who worked for his wife, if his wife was a difficult employer. Another potential juror was a former precinct captain who said she would ask for guidance from her heavenly father to help her decide guilt or innocence.
Flashbacks on jury selection recall Blagojevich’s predecessor, Governor George Ryan, who was convicted of corruption in a federal trial. Ryan’s trial almost resulted in a mistrial when several of the seated 12 jurors had to be replaced by alternate jurors during the trial, including two of them during actual deliberations after the close of all evidence. That required deliberations to begin all over with the new members. The judge decided to make replacements after it was discovered some of the jurors had concealed arrest records during voir dire.
Prosecutors claim they have 500 hours of secret recordings of the ex-governor. Of course, the F.B.I. leaked the tapes. Blagojevich claims the tapes, when listened to in their entirety, prove his innocence. He is facing a maximum of 450 years in prison and $8 million in fines.