Blagojevich corruption trial observers try to guess what jury notes mean for outcome

Aug 17th, 2010 | By usnews | Category: U.S.

CHICAGO –  Trying to decide whether notes from jurors deliberating at the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich are good for the defense or the prosecution has become a kind of parlor game for anyone closely scrutinizing the proceedings.

Much of it’s guesswork, but many seem to believe the latest note — asking for transcripts of testimony from a former top Blagojevich aide — may be a more hopeful sign for prosecutors. Notes toward the end of last week seemed to offer the defense reason for optimism.

Tuesday is the 14th day of deliberations, and jurors are likely to start the day by going through transcripts of former deputy governor Bradley Tusk’s testimony that the judge agreed on Monday to hand over to them.

Tusk testified that Blagojevich planned to hold up a $2 million grant to a school in then-U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel’s district until his Hollywood-agent brother, Ari, held a fundraiser. Tusk testified that he ignored a Blagojevich directive to deliver the message to Emanuel, saying he thought the plan was “illegal and unethical.”

Jeff Cramer, a former federal prosecutor not connected to the Blagojevich case, said Tusk was one of the prosecution’s more credible witnesses because he, unlike other former Blagojevich aides who testified, never pleaded guilty to crimes or had immunity to appear.

“There’s nothing good for the defense in this testimony,” he added.

Nothing in the indictment of Blagojevich suggested that Emanuel — now President Barack Obama’s chief of staff — was actually threatened. Emanuel has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Jurors sent a note to Zagel last Thursday signaling they were stuck on many of the 24 counts against Blagojevich and had agreed on only two. Zagel told them to deliberate further on 11 wire fraud counts that they had not considered.

Many observers took that note as a potentially positive development for the defense — a sign that jurors may, at the very least, were struggling to agree.

The jury then took the next three days off.

“I think we all woke up thinking (the jurors) will be back Monday, saying they are deadlocked,” Cramer said. “This note says the government is still in the game.”

The defense concern will now be that jurors will put too much emphasis on Tusk’s testimony compared with other — perhaps weaker — testimony, said former federal prosecutor, Phil Turner.

“If jurors get that one transcript, they tend to look at it as gospel,” he said.

Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to all 24 counts, including charges he tried to sell or trade Obama’s old Senate seat for a high-paying job or campaign cash. His 54-year-old brother, Robert Blagojevich, a Nashville, Tenn., businessman, faces four counts and also pleaded not guilty.

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