Blago Shamelessly Uses Kelly's Death in His Defense

A cautionary tale

By Steve Rhodes
|  Tuesday, Sep 15, 2009  |  Updated 10:19 AM CDT
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Shame on You

AP

It's all about Rod.

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The ever so classy Rod Blagojevich didn't even wait for Chris Kelly's body to go cold before exploiting for his own PR-driven legal defense the death his former best friend and partner in political crime.

"Chris Kelly took his life because of the pressure he was under," Blagojevich said on his WLS-AM radio show on Sunday. "My friend Chris Kelly's death will not be in vain."

But Kelly did not die a hero. He died a serial felon.

Kelly had just pleaded guilty to an $8.5 million kickback scheme involving contracts at O'Hare airport. He had previously pleaded guilty to tax evasion. He was looking at nearly eight years in prison (to start this week), and that was before going to trial in the  wide-ranging political corruption case against Blagojevich, in which he was also indicted.

And while it's still not clear whether Kelly took his own life, as Blagojevich surmises, federal prosecutors are hardly to blame for putting enormous pressure on Kelly to flip on his old pal. That's what we pay prosecutors to do.

Kelly was a key witness, no doubt, but hardly the only one. Former Blagojevich chiefs of staff Lon Monk and John Harris are already reportedly cooperating with the feds, as is, to some degree, Tony Rezko. The evidence against Blagojevich - despite what he has been allowed to get away with on national television (and WLS) - appears voluminous.

Blagojevich's claims that witnesses are telling lies to save themselves is a claim repeated in courtrooms every day whenever plea bargains are made. They rarely stand up in the face of corroboration, especially when that corroboration includes wiretaps.

"[Kelly] refused to make it easier on himself to lie about someone else," Blagojevich said. "He refused to lie about someone and not stand up for the truth."

Right. Because it's always about Blagojevich.

But Kelly had a bushelful of his own problems, from a gambling addiction and a foreclosed home to a broken marriage and his impending prison bid. He was likely thinking about himself, not Rod Blagojevich, when he allegedly offed himself.

His death will not be in vain because it serves as yet another in a long, depressing series of cautionary tales about Illinois politics. But he almost certainly didn't die because he wanted to save Rod Blagojevich from the indignity of prison.

Instead, one way or another, he likely wanted to save himself.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.

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