Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Prosecutors: Blagojevich verdict reached after fair trial

By Jamey Dunn

Prosecutors say former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has no grounds to fight his conviction on corruption charges.

A federal jury convicted Blagojevich on 17 out of 20 counts in June. Blagojevich’s lawyers filed a complaint earlier this month seeking to have the convictions tossed out based on several claims, including judicial bias and a tainted jury pool. The complaint said U.S. District Judge James Zagel favored the prosecution, and some members of the jury had heard of Blagojevich’s case and said they thought he might be guilty. The motion also reiterated the defense's longstanding complaint that not all the audio recordings the government had of the former governor’s telephone calls were played during the trial.

The prosecution countered that Blagojevich was convicted after a fair trial, and the defense’s claims do not meet the “high burden” set for overturning a jury’s ruling. “In making these arguments [the] defendant disregards what the evidence at trial established and what the jury concluded — that the defendant knowingly engaged in a scheme to abuse his power as governor in exchange for personal  financial gain. In reality, there was no bias, manipulation or unfairness on the part of the prosecution judge or jury. [The] defendant was fairly convicted by a jury of his peers based on overwhelming evidence, and his post-trial motion therefore should be denied,” said the prosecution’s response, which was filed today.

Blagojevich’s lawyers argued that jurors should have been allowed to hear all of the former governor’s telephone calls from the time period when the government was gathering evidence against him. The complaint accuses prosecutors of “cherry picking” conversations. However, the response said the other calls were irrelevant and some of the calls the defense wanted to submit were never recorded. “This court properly rejected the defendant’s request for discovery of evidence that either did not exist or that was completely irrelevant to any issue in the case,” the response stated.

As for the claims that Blagojevich faced a tainted jury, the prosecution said the former governor dragged his own case into the limelight with the intent of reaching possible jurors. The response said that jurors who knew about the case said they could put their opinions aside to give Blagojevich a fair shake. “[The] defendant engaged in an unprecedented national media campaign executed with the help of [a] retained public relations firm for the purpose of influencing public opinion, and that campaign was bound to have some impact, even if it was not the impact [the] defendant had hoped for.” However, the defense complained that a news conference held on the day of Blagojevich’s arrest — where U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the former governor’s behavior "would make Lincoln roll over in his grave” — also colored public opinion.

Zagel has yet to rule on the defense's request for a new trial. The former governor’s sentencing date is scheduled for October 6. Blagojevich also faces sentencing for a previous conviction of lying to federal officers.

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