Blagojevich jurors deadlocked on 11 of 24 counts, decided on 2
The jury in the Blagojevich corruption trial has ended its third calendar week of deliberation with no sure sign of a final verdict in sight.
Midway through its 12th day of deliberation Thursday, the jury revealed it had reached a unanimous decision on just two of the 28 counts against former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich and his fundraiser brother, Robert, and it appeared knotted on the rest, without even having seriously considered the dozen wire-fraud counts against the two men.
That was the apparent message from the jury to Judge James Zagel, read in open court Thursday morning, after the group of six women and six men had announced the day before that it had gone "beyond reasonable attempts" to reach a verdict on "given counts."
Zagel crafted a response along with attorneys on both sides calling for the jury to continue deliberating on the wire-fraud charges - 11 against the former governor and one against his brother - in an attempt to reach a final "decision" in the case.
The jury returned to duty, but ended its deliberation late in the afternoon and was granted Friday off after requesting it earlier in the week. Deliberation was to resume on Monday.
While everyone involved in the case emphasized that no one knows what's really going on in the jury room, the news that the jury had decided on just two counts so far along in the process appeared to shake the prosecution and cheer the defense.
"I would be much more uncomfortable if I were the prosecutor at this point," said attorney Richard Kling of the Chicago-Kent College of Law,
Indeed, assistant U.S. attorneys Reid Schar and Christopher Niewoehner stood uncomfortably with arms crossed while considering the judge's response to the jury during a break in the trial hearing Thursday.
By contrast, defense spirits seemed lifted. Patti and Rod Blagojevich chatted amiably during the same break, and his attorney Aaron Goldstein said the mood in the defense camp was "anxious, nervous, but there's a lot of cautious optimism."
Rod Blagojevich spent part of the afternoon playing an '80s trivia game with reporters in the second-floor cafeteria of the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago, as Patti sat nearby. Robert Blagojevich sat with his wife, Julie, and his attorneys across the room.
Still, all cautioned there is no sure way to read the jury at this point. The two verdicts could offer convictions for Rod Blagojevich or exoneration for Robert - or vice versa, or some combination of the two. Rod Blagojevich faces 24 counts in all, including racketeering, wire fraud, bribery, extortion and conspiracy, and his brother shares the counts of wire fraud, extortion and two of conspiracy.
"Whether it's for or against we don't know. Whether it's on Robert or Rod we don't know," Kling said. "It could go either way for either Blagojevich."
The messages to and from the jury constituted a cryptic game of telephone. The jury's note to Zagel stated: "We have deliberated and voted on all counts, with the exception of wire-fraud counts. We have reached unanimous agreement on two counts. We are unable to agree on any of the other counts."
Zagel's response told the jury to return to deliberating the wire-fraud counts "to the extent you'll be able to vote on those counts. We recognize your stated inability to reach an agreement may establish to your satisfaction you may be similarly unable to reach unanimity on some or all of the wire-fraud counts. A decision," he added, "should be made, even if you cannot reach unanimity on any of those counts."
"The judge essentially said, 'Go back and see if you can deliberate,'" Kling said. "It's essentially saying, 'See if you can reach a conclusion. If you can't, you can't.'"
Key to where the jury actually is, however, is whether it has actually "deliberated" the wire-fraud charges or whether it has discussed them and simply not taken a vote on them yet. "I can't imagine how they could have been sitting in a jury room for two weeks and not been talking about the wire-fraud counts," Kling said. "If they're using the term 'deliberated' with respect to the wire fraud, that they haven't even begun to deliberate it, then we're nowhere close to a verdict and we'll be into next week." But, he said, if the jury is using the term 'deliberate' to mean they simply haven't yet voted on the wire-fraud counts, a verdict could come much sooner.
Zagel's reply was carefully worded, but if deliberations drag deep into next week without a resolution he could yet issue a so-called dynamite charge, also known legalistically as an "Allen Charge," a precise instruction to the members of the jury to reconsider their own opinions in the aim of reaching a unanimous verdict.
"In short, everything's possible," Goldstein said. "Endless speculation. That's where we are right now."
• Daily Herald Reporter Kerry Lester contributed to this report.