Tags: US | Blagojevich | Trial

Closing Arguments to Start in Blagojevich Trial

Monday, 26 Jul 2010 06:46 AM

 

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Twenty months after Gov. Rod Blagojevich was led out of his house in handcuffs for what prosecutors called a "political crime spree," attorneys will make their last pitch to jurors during a trial that has been littered with names like Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel and Jesse Jackson Jr.

Prosecutors, Blagojevich's lawyer and an attorney for his co-defendant brother will square off Monday for what could be up to eight hours of closing arguments.

The main showdown will be between two polished and methodical prosecutors, neither of whom have raised their voices during the seven-week corruption trial, and the ousted governor's fiery defense attorney, whose court performances often are a cross between Baptist minister and standup comedian.

Blagojevich attorney Sam Adam Jr. told The Associated Press over the weekend that his message would be simple: "First and foremost, the government has proved nothing," he said.

He'll likely try to persuade jurors that that's why the defense didn't bother presenting a single piece of evidence — or fulfill earlier promises to call Blagojevich to the stand — before resting its case last week.

"He didn't take a dime — he's broke," Adam said he'd tell jurors. "Did he talk a lot? Certainly. Did he use foul language? For sure. ... But what dollar did he take? Who did he shake down? What did he do that was illegal? Nothing."

Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner is slated to go first Monday, recapping the government's case and trying to connect the dots between often complex evidence presented during the trial. Prosecutors were dispassionate, even monotone, when questioning witnesses. But they're likely to conjure up some emotion for their closing bid to jurors.

Niewoehner and a colleague will tell jurors how — from almost the day he took office — Blagojevich and a close inner circle allegedly schemed to benefit from handing out state contracts and appointments and leveraging other official decisions.

They will talk about how Blagojevich, as governor, told key aides to stop sending state business to companies that didn't hire his wife, and to threaten to kill a deal concerning the Tribune Co.'s planned sale of Wrigley Field if the Chicago Tribune didn't fire writers critical of him.

And they will revisit what Blagojevich allegedly saw as the biggest opportunity of all: The chance to turn the appointment of a U.S. Senate successor to Obama into money or a new job or both, part of an effort to escape a job the governor had come to loathe.

"I've got this thing and it's (bleeping) golden," Blagojevich said famously in a conversation recorded by secret FBI wiretaps. "I'm just not giving it up for (bleeping) nothing."

Prosecutors can play several excerpts of taped conversations they contend prove Blagojevich wasn't merely talking about getting help from Obama to push through legislation.

"I have to get the (bleep) out of here," he is heard saying.

When Adam rises to speak, he'll tell jurors there is no evidence the 53-year-old Blagojevich schemed to receive a high-paying job or other financial benefit for the Senate seat, despite his family's finances being in shambles. He even may attempt to argue some of the tapes reveal a governor trying to turn the Senate appointment into something positive, not for himself but for the state.

The stakes could be high for the 37-year-old Adam as well.

He gained fame two years ago employing his fire-and-brimstone style at Chicago's grim, gritty Criminal Courts Building in decisive closing arguments that helped acquit R&B singer R. Kelly on child pornography charges. And last year, a jury acquitted one of Adam's clients charged with murder for stabbing his neighbor 61 times.

He has about 60 wins and only five losses when closing in the criminal courts. This time, he'll have to try to work his magic at the Dirksen Federal Building, a more staid atmosphere where many believe Adam's theatrics and booming rhetoric can't win.

If Adam helps win the Blagojevich case, he would establish himself as a legal star on a stage beyond Chicago.

Among attorneys at the Dirksen Building, many of whom went to the finest East Coast schools, there is a tendency to look down on their criminal courts building counterparts. There, many attorneys started in traffic court and worked their way up.

"They're different worlds," says Michael Helfand, a Chicago attorney with no link to the case. "If Adam gets too carried away, the judge could certainly stop him. That could be a disaster in closings because you lose your rhythm."

On Saturday, Adam told the AP he won't use notes during a closing that should last more than two hours. He'll memorize broad outlines — but will improvise, too.

Adam said his objective, as in other closings, will be to both tell a story and put on a show.

"That doesn't mean a show in the clownish sense," he said. "But you've got to figure out how to best make your argument. If you can do it in an entertaining way, not only are jurors not bored — they'll understand and accept it more."

If convicted, Blagojevich could face up to $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, though he is sure to get much less time under federal guidelines.

His brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged scheme to sell the Senate seat and plotting to illegally pressure a racetrack owner for a $100,000 campaign contribution.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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