Since Blagojevich's first trial ended last year with jurors
deadlocked on all but one count of lying to the FBI, federal
prosecutors have simplified their case and dropped complex charges
to address previous juror complaints that the evidence was too
difficult to follow.
Would-be members of the jury that will decide
Blagojevich's fate this time around started filling out their
questionnaires Wednesday morning, court official Donald Walker said.
Among the queries is how closely potential jurors followed the
occasionally circus-like first trial. Knowledge of the case, though,
wouldn't automatically rule someone out.
Blagojevich still faces 20 charges, including allegations he
sought to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's
vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job.
The 54-year-old is returning to trial with a scaled-down, more
bookish defense team that no longer includes lead lawyer Sam Adam
Jr., whose courtroom theatrics in round one often drew the judge's
ire. Blagojevich also will be the lone defendant after authorities
dropped all charges against his brother.
Like a second-night Broadway performance, the actors presumably
come in with many missteps and miscues corrected.
"Everyone improves," said Blagojevich attorney Aaron Goldstein.
The central figure in the case isn't required to be at the
courthouse for the earliest stages of jury selection, so it could be
a day or two before Blagojevich makes his entrance. Jury selection
could take about a week.
The former contestant on TV's "Celebrity Apprentice" recently
said he looked forward to the chance to try to prove his innocence.
But he also said he dreaded the retrial.
"To have to sit through that and hear all that again ... it's
brutal," Blagojevich told The Associated Press in a weekend
interview at his Chicago home -- the family dog, Skittles, resting
on his lap.
Blagojevich already could get up to five years in prison for the
lying conviction at the first trial. And the stakes are as high as
ever this time: A conviction on just one offense could mean a decade
or more behind bars.
Last year, a single juror who refused to go along with the rest
of the panel was the only thing that prevented Blagojevich from
being convicted on the Senate seat charge.
"Would you want to be the defense, knowing you have to change 11
minds to get an acquittal, or prosecutors, thinking you have to
change just one?" said Michael Helfand, a Chicago attorney with
experience in federal courts.
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Prosecutors have their challenges, too. Their case so befuddled
jurors the first time around that they drew up their own timelines
of alleged misdeeds and taped them to a wall as they deliberated.
Prosecutors have since dropped racketeering charges, which have
stupefying legal points and subpoints. They also dismissed all
charges against Blagojevich's brother and co-defendant, Robert
Blagojevich, allowing them to focus entirely on the former governor.
They even sought to edit out what they consider irrelevant
chitchat on hours of FBI wiretap recordings, evidence at the heart
of the government case, including a reference in one conversation to
Blagojevich's famously bountiful locks.
"They've been like a ship tossing excess baggage overboard to get
through a storm," said David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for
With the prosecution pursuing a condensed case, many experts say
it would behoove the defense to call at least a few witnesses -- in
contrast to the first trial, when they chose not to put on a case.
Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor, said he normally would
adhere to conventional wisdom that it's almost always a bad idea to
expose a defendant to blistering cross-examination. But he said the
defense may want to consider putting Blagojevich on the stand.
"As a politician, Blagojevich knows rhetorical bobbing and
weaving, and he knows acting, so he can act cool or indignant when
he needs to," Turner said. "He could be formidable."
Blagojevich told AP he has been preparing for the possibility he
could testify. But he said whether he takes the stand is a decision
that will be made during the trial.
By MICHAEL TARM]
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