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updated: 6/29/2011 5:59 AM

A look inside Blagojevich jury box

12 strangers found some common ground -- and 17 guilty verdicts

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  • Jury forewoman Connie Wilson of Naperville speaks out on the trial, along with her fellow jurors, following a guilty verdict on former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich Monday.

      Jury forewoman Connie Wilson of Naperville speaks out on the trial, along with her fellow jurors, following a guilty verdict on former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich Monday.
    Associated Press

  • Karin Wilson was one of the jurors in the Rod Blagojevich trial that ended with his conviction on 17 of the 20 charges against him.

       Karin Wilson was one of the jurors in the Rod Blagojevich trial that ended with his conviction on 17 of the 20 charges against him.
    jamie sotonoff | Staff Photographer

  • Maribel DeLeon, of West Dundee, one of the Rod Blagojevich jurors for his second trial.

      Maribel DeLeon, of West Dundee, one of the Rod Blagojevich jurors for his second trial.

  • Jessica Hubinek, of Carol Stream, talks about her experiences serving on the jury that convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

       Jessica Hubinek, of Carol Stream, talks about her experiences serving on the jury that convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
    Daniel white | Staff Photographer

  • Jessica Hubinek, of Carol Stream, talks about her experiences serving on the jury that convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. At left is her daughter, Jade Hubinek.

       Jessica Hubinek, of Carol Stream, talks about her experiences serving on the jury that convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. At left is her daughter, Jade Hubinek.
    Daniel white | Staff Photographer

  • Jessica Hubinek, of Carol Stream, talks about her experiences serving on the jury that convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

       Jessica Hubinek, of Carol Stream, talks about her experiences serving on the jury that convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
    Daniel white | Staff Photographer

  • Connie Wilson, jury forewoman in the retrial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, at her home in Naperville on Tuesday, the day after Blagojevich was found guilty on 17 of 20 charges.

      Connie Wilson, jury forewoman in the retrial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, at her home in Naperville on Tuesday, the day after Blagojevich was found guilty on 17 of 20 charges.
    Associated Press

  • Connie Wilson, jury forewoman in the retrial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, at her home in Naperville on Tuesday, the day after Blagojevich was found guilty on 17 of 20 charges.

      Connie Wilson, jury forewoman in the retrial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, at her home in Naperville on Tuesday, the day after Blagojevich was found guilty on 17 of 20 charges.
    Associated Press

 
 

For Illinoisans sick and tired of corruption, the Rod Blagojevich jury could be one of the few bright spots as yet another disgraced governor faces prison time for betraying the public trust.

"People came from various cultures and backgrounds. It's amazing how everyone worked together and how respectful everyone was even when we disagreed," forewoman Connie Wilson of Naperville said Tuesday, a day after the federal jury she served on found the former governor guilty of corruption.

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"When you throw 12 strangers in a room, you don't know what kind of dynamics you'll get," said Wilson, a retired Naperville church director of music and liturgy.

Meltdowns, shouting, backbiting and dysfunction occurred on juries in Blagojevich's first trial and in that of former Gov. George Ryan.

Not so in the Blagojevich retrial.

"When I think about how a jury should work, how it should be set up, how the members should work together, this jury was pretty much exactly how I thought it should have gone," said juror Jessica Hubinek, a 32-year-old Carol Stream librarian.

Although charming and personable, in a few cases, Blagojevich's own words implicated him, some jurors noted.

"Sometimes he continued to talk when he shouldn't have," Wilson said. "There were contradictions. He loves to talk and tell a story. Sometimes you need to not talk so much."

Juror Rosemary Bennett, an Aurora retiree, noted that Blagojevich "tripped himself up several times because he talked so much."

Jurors admitted it was hard not to sympathize with Blagojevich's family, but they kept their emotions separate.

"Hearing so many details (about his family) was meant to pull our heartstrings, and we fought against it," said juror Karin Wilson, 48, a teacher and mother of two from Palatine.

"We were aware his daughters were in the courtroom one day, and we decided we wouldn't even look at them. We were there to hear the facts and not have emotions override those facts."

Instant family

The 11 women and one man comprising the jury came from all walks of life.

"I was the old lady of the jury," said Bennett, who turned 73 during the trial.

They endured long commutes and juggled kids and jobs.

Juror Maribel De Leon of West Dundee left her home a little after 6 a.m. daily for the length of the trial, drove her 4-year-old son to his grandmother's house and then took a train to Chicago. She wouldn't get home again until after 7 p.m., too tired to cook and already having missed her husband leave for the night shift.

"It was very difficult," De Leon said. "But we made it work. We knew it wasn't going to last forever."

Karin Wilson was constantly in contact with the student teacher who took over her job.

"I feel guilty about my students, and how I disrupted the end of their school year," she said. "I'm ready to go back to my normal life."

The panel celebrated three birthdays together and nicknamed themselves "The Singing Jury" because, at least a few times a week, they called a fellow juror's friend or relative and sang "Happy Birthday" into the phone.

The sole male, Villa Park custodian John McParland, 52, said the group plans a reunion.

"From the beginning, it almost seemed like family and friends, like we knew each other for years," he said.

No regrets

Jurors convicted Blagojevich on 17 counts involving pay-to-play politics that included trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat. They returned one not-guilty verdict on accusations of trying to bribe a construction executive regarding Illinois tollway work, and were deadlocked on two counts of extortion of a congressman and construction executive.

A meticulous approach to the mountain of evidence and setting ground rules about respect made the long deliberations amicable, Connie Wilson, 56, said.

Jurors went back and reviewed all the tapes played at the trial to put them in context. All 12 agreed it was clear that the governor was engaged in more than political horse-trading.

Instead of secret votes, they indicated the level of guilt or innocence on each count with a show of fingers -- a closed fist indicating not guilty and five fingers meaning guilty. When there was no consensus, they talked.

Jurors made a pact not to reveal the names of the individuals who were holdouts on the extortion counts, although it appeared there was one in each case.

Revealing the verdict with the Blagojevich family present was a tense moment.

"I'm a wife. I found it very hard to look at Patti," said Connie Wilson, who has two grown daughters.

She made eye contact with the former governor and found the experience unsettling.

"It's not a pleasant feeling anytime you make such a final decision. This will ... destroy their lives."

But jurors had no regrets.

"I genuinely think he loves his family ... but you can't take that into consideration, as hard as it might be," Hubinek said. "He made his own bed, but I could tell he was very desperate and he went to a very bad place. When he started, he did want good things for Illinois."

Karin Wilson said the lesson is as basic as what she teaches students at Walt Whitman Elementary School in Wheeling.

"There are natural consequences to everything. If there's a child not behaving at school, you don't get recess. If you do behave, you get recess. That's an important message for kids and families, and everyone," she said.

"Everyone was at peace (with the verdict)," Connie Wilson said. "Everyone worked together and tried so hard to make sure they were just."

• Daily Herald staff writers Tara Garcia Mathewson, Anna Madrzyk, Susan Sarkauskas and Jamie Sotonoff contributed to this report.

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