Judge sets opening statements for Tuesday in Blagojevich trial

Saying "decent progress" is being made at selecting a jury, Judge James Zagel set the Blagojevich corruption trial for a Tuesday start, even though Rod and Patti Blagojevich requested the afternoon off to attend the grammar-school graduation of a child.

Zagel hopes to arrive at a final pool of 40 potential jurors Monday, then set pre-emptory challenges for Tuesday morning to be immediately followed by opening statements.

"I don't want to say we get the jury and then come back later," Zagel said, adding that if they stayed on schedule they would begin and end early Tuesday instead, allowing the Blagojeviches to get to the late-afternoon graduation.

Patti Blagojevich was crestfallen and burst into tears in the courtroom afterward.

The decision came at the end of a day that began with Rod Blagojevich lauding the way the judge was handling jury selection and saying he'd be "vindicated." Rod and Patti Blagojevich left the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in downtown Chicago without making any additional statement to reporters, although Rod signaled "thumbs-up" to supporters.

Twenty of the first day's batch of 29 prospective jurors in the Blagojevich corruption case cleared challenges for just cause in the morning, counting one in which Zagel "postponed" a decision, and 11 more prospective jurors were added to that pool in the afternoon, putting the trial on apparent course to have a completed jury by the middle of next week.

"We need 40 to be sure we have a jury," Zagel said, announcing his intention to have that number by the end of the day Monday after an additional batch of prospective jurors is processed.

After that, the defense is allowed 13 pre-emptory challenges and prosecutors nine, which would establish a jury of 12 with six alternates.

Zagel postponed a decision on a juror he called "an unknown quantity," who did not answer some questions on the questionnaire mailed to prospective jurors and proved reticent in being questioned by Zagel in court on Thursday.

Zagel and lawyers from both sides quickly agreed to eliminate 11 jurors Friday, and of the eight remaining they could still be challenged for just cause when the trial resumes Monday.

Among the jurors cleared in the morning from Thursday's opening session were a man who wrote in his questionnaire, "I already believe Blagojevich to be guilty," and another who Rod Blagojevich defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said was "tainted" by extensive service on a federal grand jury.

They would figure to be likely subjects for the defense's pre-emptory challenges.

Some of the potential jurors questioned Friday included a Vietnam veteran and an airport security adviser at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

Among the 11 rejected was a woman who teaches Croatian folklore twice a week in Chicago. The Blagojeviches have expressed pride in their Serbian heritage, and the Croats and Serbs have been in conflict for centuries.

Eight more potential jurors were to be ruled on Monday before the next batch is processed. Zagel has said he winnowed "about 100" from a mailing of 400 questionnaires in the jury pool. Fifty-nine were processed this week.

In addition to the jury of 12, Zagel has not formally determined how many alternates will sit on the case, evidently waiting to see how many will be left eligible after both sides have filed their final challenges.

Blagojevich is on trial for racketeering, extortion, bribery and conspiracy, along with his brother, Robert Blagojevich.

Though the ex-governor appeared upbeat and waved to passers-by on arrival, the mood at the courthouse was much calmer Friday compared to the media circus at the trial's opening day.

Before heading up to the courtroom, Blagojevich approached a gaggle of reporters, with his wife, Patti, at his side. "We've been lied about and falsely accused," Blagojevich said. "I know I'll be vindicated."

<div class="infoBox"> <h1>More Coverage</h1> <div class="infoBoxContent"> <div class="infoArea"> <h2>Related links</h2> <ul class="moreWeb"> <li><a href="" target="new">Complete Daily Herald coverage of Blagojevich corruptions charges </a></li> </ul> </div> </div> </div>

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