Rod Blagojevich did himself more harm than good by taking the stand in his retrial last summer. Members of his jury say they didn’t believe him, and felt manipulated by his antics in the courtroom.
“We were there to hear the truth,” said juror Karin Wilson. “I didn’t want to hear the jokes. I didn’t want to hear the silliness from the stand.”
Three months after the trial, they are still a remarkably cohesive unit. During an appearance at the Carol Stream Public Library, eight members of the jury said they would likely remain friends for life as a result of their shared experience. And to a person, they suggested the question of the former governor’s guilt or innocence was not a close call.
“It was very difficult for me to believe anything he said on the stand,” said juror Amy Laures, who declared that very early on, she detected there were “two Rods”. “You had the Rod on the tapes when he didn’t think anyone was listening. And you had the Rod on the stand where he was his magnetic personality, trying to get everyone to like him.”
“I felt like he was trying to play us,” said juror Pat Ream.
Still, the panel painted a picture of a hard-working jury where members were determined to get it right. And they said there were no foregone conclusions.
“We combed over everything,” said Jessica Hubinek, a west-suburban librarian, explaining that the first thing the jury did was listen to every one of the sensational undercover tapes, in order. “A lot of times in the tapes he would say, ‘What can I get for that? ‘ And then, when he was testifying he said, ‘I meant, what could I get for the State of Illinois?’”
She rolled her eyes.
“There was such an overwhelming amount of evidence against him. But there were times that you knew when he was on the stand, that he was lying.”
The former governor’s gregarious personality was not confined to the witness chair.
“Rod is a very magnetic person,” said NBC5 courtroom artist Tom Gianni, who sat next to Patti Blagojevich for the duration of the trial, and often found himself on the receiving end of the former governor’s analyses of the evidence.
“I just finally said, ‘Rod, I’m not on the jury!’”
Gianni said the former first lady leaned over to him during the testimony of a construction executive, and offered some friendly advice.
“If the FBI ever comes to your house, don’t let them in!”
During Blagojevich’s first day on the stand, where he went through a stem-winding recitation of his life story, jurors said they quickly determined that he was dropping in references to their own life experiences: how much he enjoyed libraries; his running experience; his love of teachers.
“I definitely started to lose respect for him,” said Hubinek. “Him liking the same things I liked didn’t really matter. What mattered is what he did, and the evidence against him.”
The jury described exhausting days, highlighted by lengthy commutes, and hours of tedium. One juror had a 2 and a half hour commute from LaSalle County each day. Many said they were so worn out by day’s end, they had no trouble following the judge’s orders not to discuss the trial with their familes, or each other.
“The one thing that brought us together,” said Laures, “was the one thing we weren’t allowed to talk about!”
During the lengthy trial the jurors celebrated birthdays together. They shared celebrity gossip. But at the same time, they said they were so wrapped up in the testimony they were unaware of the hoopla surrounding the royal wedding in Great Britain.
And while no one talked about writing a book, they did make a mutual pact to try and strike it rich.
“I said you know what, wouldn’t it be funny, why don’t we all play the lotto?” said juror Mary DeLeon. “Wouldn’t it be funny if we won?”
DeLeon said every week, she and her fellow jurors pooled their funds.
“Someone would buy the tickets, would come in, and we’re like, ‘did we win? Are we still jurors?’”
The deliberations were never in jeopardy. The most the jurors won was $5.
Many of the jurors said they plan to attend Blagojevich’s sentencing December 6. Jury foreman Connie Wilson said she felt the former governor would probably receive a sentence of between 10 and 12 years.
Wilson said she was proud of the panel, the work they had done, and the message they hopefully sent to politicians and the public at large.
“We made a statement,” Wilson said. “As citizens, we’re going to draw a line in the sand and say, we’re getting tired of it!”