CHICAGO (AP) — An overwhelming number of potential jurors for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's retrial believe some politicians take bribes or view the entire political system as corrupt, the judge in the case said Thursday.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel's comments were based on questionnaires filled out a day earlier by dozens of potential jurors, who returned to court to be individually questioned on the second day of jury selection.
Blagojevich also came to the courthouse, where his first trial ended last year with jurors deadlocked on all but one count of lying to the FBI. The 54-year-old former governor still faces 20 charges, including accusations he sought to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job.
Zagel's summary of the juror questionnaires underscores one major challenge facing attorneys: Finding impartial jurors in such a high-profile case who won't be influenced by their beliefs about the political system in general and Blagojevich in particular.
Potential jurors answered questions in Zagel's courtroom one by one Thursday. Blagojevich looked serious as he took detailed notes on a yellow pad; his wife, Patti, sat just behind him.
The judge asked one woman — who wrote in her questionnaire that she thought Blagojevich was guilty based on what she'd heard of the first trial — whether she could set aside previous opinions and assess the evidence evenhandedly.
"I'd like to think I could," she said.
Another man wrote in his questionnaire that "politicians are corrupt one way or another," Zagel said. But that man also told the he thought he could be fair.
Most of those questioned Thursday said they had heard something about last year's trial, but none said they recalled the case in detail.
Zagel said he did not see a problem with potential jurors answering that some politicians take money to influence their positions, but suggested those who answered that corruption is rampant won't be selected to decide on Blagojevich's guilt or innocence.
The judge and attorneys hope to quickly whittle away at the large juror pool and choose a 12-person jury with several alternates by the middle of next week.
Federal prosecutors have simplified their case since last year's 2½-month trial, dropping complex charges to address concerns the evidence was too difficult to follow. Blagojevich has a scaled-down defense team, and is the lone defendant after the government dropped all charges against his brother.
It also seems to be a whole new trial outside the courthouse, where Thursday's scene was not nearly as sensational and frantic as last summer's. Only one spectator identified herself as a fan of the impeached governor — a far cry from the several supporters who flocked to the courthouse to wave signs and cheer for Blagojevich last year.
Blagojevich himself was uncharacteristically quiet. Unlike at the opening of the first trial, where he could have been mistaken for a candidate on the campaign trail, Blagojevich chatted with few people on his way through the courthouse Thursday — though he did give his autograph to the lone fan.
Pressed for a comment, he told reporters only that he would talk sometime later.
Associated Press writer Don Babwin contributed to this report.
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