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Rod Blagojevich Jury Surprises In Land Of Guilty Pols

Aug 17, 2010

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Frank James

In the Land of Lincoln, it's a fairly routine matter to see juries convict politicians and send them off packing to federal prison.

Former governors, congressmen, aldermen, you name it; In Illinois the cases of political corruption are usually fairly open and shut. Juries seldom have trouble reaching unanimity on a politician's conviction. They've had so much practice, after all.

So it was something of a surprise, to say the least, to learn that the jury deciding the case of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich chose to mostly not decide it.

On Tuesday, after two weeks of deliberations they convicted him on only one of 23 counts, lying to FBI agents, and hung on the rest.

Meanwhile, they couldn't agree on all four counts against his brother, Robert.

The office of the best known of all federal prosecutors, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, says it will retry the case.

That's obviously bad news for Blagojevich since federal prosecutors have many more resources at their disposal than Blagojevich's lawyers.

We'll no doubt learn in coming days what the hang up was with the jury. Many who've followed the case will be looking forward to that since the prosecution's evidence against the Blagojevich brothers seemed pretty damning.

That was especially true since much of the evidence took the form of recordings of the governor and his brother plotting ways to politically strong-arm various people for campaign contributions or jobs.

The 24-count indictment included charges of racketeering, extortion and corrupt solicitation. The most famous of the counts was the charge that he tried to sell the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama for the highest offer.

That the jury deadlocked on 23 counts, allowed Blagojevich to continue claiming his innocence. Outside the courthouse after the verdict, he even disputed the conviction on the one count of lying to the FBI. He said:

Let me just say to the people of Illinois, from the very beginning I told them I did not let them down, I didn't break any laws. I didn't do anything wrong. The federal government and this particular prosecutor did everything to target me, persecute me, put pressure on my family... This jury just shows you.. on every count except for one, they could not prove that I did anything wrong. Except for one nebulous charge from five years ago... I want the people of Illinois to know I did not lie to the FBI."

In his claim that he was singled out and persecuted by federal law enforcement and in denying any wrongdoing, Blagojevich sounded a lot like another famous convicted Chicago politician who once represented the same congressional district as Blagojevich.

Dan Rostenkowski, Blago's predecessor as congressman from Illinois's 5th Congressional District, was laid to rest Tuesday just hours before the Blagojevich verdict came in.

It was one of those weird ironies of Chicago politics that adds to the city's lore.

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