POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Apr 21, 2011
CHICAGO >> Rod Blagojevich’s second corruption trial got under way Wednesday with little hoopla, as potential jurors quietly began filling out questionnaires aimed at weeding out any strong biases for or against the ousted Illinois governor.
Blagojevich, who is expected to make his first appearance at the retrial Thursday, faces 20 charges that include allegations he sought to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job.
Since Blagojevich’s first trial ended last year with jurors deadlocked on all but one count of lying to the FBI, federal prosecutors have simplified their case and dropped complex charges to address concerns the evidence was too difficult to follow.
More than 100 would-be members of the jury that will decide Blagojevich’s fate this time around started filling out their 38-page questionnaires Wednesday in a part of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse set aside to process potential panelists, court official Donald Walker said.
Blagojevich did not have to be at the courthouse for the very beginning of jury selection, so there was little of the circus-like atmosphere that accompanied the start of his first trial. But that could change Thursday when Judge James Zagel begins questioning potential jurors one by one.
The judge has said Blagojevich must attend the individual questioning of jurors on the stand, and Blagojevich spokesman Glenn Selig confirmed the former governor would be on hand Thursday morning.
Zagel wants to have a jury seated by next Wednesday, said Joel Daly, a spokesman for the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.
Among the queries, Zagel has said, is how closely potential jurors followed the first trial. Some knowledge of the case, though, wouldn’t automatically rule anyone out. The questions on the questionnaire — though not jurors’ answers themselves — will be released publicly after a jury is chosen, Daly said.
Blagojevich, 54, is returning to trial with a scaled-down, more bookish defense team that no longer includes lead lawyer Sam Adam Jr., whose courtroom theatrics in round one often drew the judge’s ire. Blagojevich also will be the lone defendant after authorities dropped all charges against his brother.
The former “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant recently said he looked forward to the chance to try and prove his innocence. But he also said he dreaded the retrial.
“To have to sit through that and hear all that again ... it’s brutal,” Blagojevich told The Associated Press in a weekend interview at his Chicago home.
Blagojevich already could get up to five years in prison for the lying conviction at the first trial. A conviction on just one offense this time could mean a decade or more behind bars.