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Courtroom artist Verna Sadock (L) shows former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich a painting she made of him as he leaves the federal courthouse after a day of jury selection for his re-trial April 21, 2011 in Chicago.
Imagine being Rod Blagojevich.
You hope to get a sympathetic jury this time around, one which will agree with your contention that you were railroaded from office by sinister political forces; that all you wanted to do was good things for the people.
And then, you meet juror #170.
"It would probably take a strong case on Mr. Blagojevich's part to convince me that he was not guilty," the Elmhurst restaurant owner told Judge James Zagel. And she wasn't alone.
Juror #169, a shipping clerk for a paper label company, demonstrated that while he didn't like watching the news, he knew enough about the case to know that Blagojevich had not testified in the first trial.
"After all the media attention and the appearances by the defendant in the media, he owes the people an explanation," that man said. "He should take the stand and explain."
In a hearing which stretched well into Tuesday evening, Zagel strongly telegraphed to the defense team that they should consider putting their client on the stand this time around.
“He might be the only choice you have,” the judge said.
Zagel questions each jury candidate, drawing from questionnaires they filled out last week. Attorneys from both sides watch, taking notes, but are not allowed to offer their own questions.
One jury candidate revealed that he has been using a profane Blagojevich rant as the ringtone on his phone. He is still in the pool of potential jurors, as is a Cook County prosecutor who vowed that she would be fair, if selected.
Mindful of the lengthy proceedings which are about to begin, many ask to be dismissed because of potential financial hardship. One, juror # 171, drew Zagel's ire because he believed she intentionally game inflammatory answers, in an effort to be dismissed as too biased to serve.
"You're answering questions in order to make yourself a very un-attractive juror," Zagel snapped.
"What I wrote there, is exactly how I feel," the woman replied.
Ironically, during open court challenges of the jurors later in the day, it was revealed the woman’s comments were pro-Blagojevich.
“I believe he is innocent,” the woman had written on her questionnaire. “He has done nothing new. He just got caught.”
The judge is attempting to reach a pool of at least 40 suitable candidates. After that, defense lawyers will have the opportunity to make as many as 13 preemptory challenges. Those require no explanation. The prosecution gets another nine, which would still leave an 18 member panel, with 12 regular jurors and six alternates.
Zagel suggested Tuesday evening that opening statements in the trial will come Monday.