Female jurors: defense tried to pull our heartstrings, but we wouldn't let them

  • Karin Wilson, of Palatine, a third- and fourth-grade teacher at Walt Whitman Elementary School in Wheeling, was one of the jurors in the Rod Blagojevich trial. On Monday, they convicted the former governor on 17 of the 20 fraud and conspiracy charges against him.

      Karin Wilson, of Palatine, a third- and fourth-grade teacher at Walt Whitman Elementary School in Wheeling, was one of the jurors in the Rod Blagojevich trial. On Monday, they convicted the former governor on 17 of the 20 fraud and conspiracy charges against him. Photo by Jamie Sotonoff | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/28/2011 5:29 PM

Defense attorneys might have thought Rod Blagojevich's sweet stories of his courtship with wife Patti or the sight of his two adorable daughters would win the sympathies of the 11 women on his 12-person jury.

They would have been wrong.

 

On Tuesday, a day after the mostly suburban and female jury convicted the former governor of 17 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy, jurors said they felt sorry for Blagojevich's children but consciously decided not to let their emotions interfere with the facts.

"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."

That's why the jurors didn't make eye contact with the Blagojevichs while the verdict was being read Monday, something she found difficult.

"It's hard being part of a process that's going to affect someone's life so much," Wilson said.

The jurors still felt for the family. On her long train rides home each day, Wilson said she often had a heavy heart thinking about the Blagojevich family, especially on Monday. She knew she was going home to an end-of-trial party with her husband and two teenagers, who baked her a cake that said "#1 Juror. We love you!" while Rod and Patti Blagojevich were going home to tell their two daughters that "Daddy's going to spend a long time in jail."

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Wilson said she doesn't feel guilty, or sorry for Blagojevich, recalling a core belief she teaches to her children and her third- and fourth-grade 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. "Your job, as a juror, is to find out what the facts are. We put aside those personal feelings to deal with the facts and evidence."

Blagojevich's testimony on the stand didn't hurt his case, Wilson said, even though she found him "personable but manipulative." Rather, it was the mountain of evidence -- especially the recordings -- that proved his guilt.

On the charges involving bribery related to the Illinois tollway system, where the jurors found Blagojevich not guilty, Wilson said some jurors still had doubts about his innocence.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Some of us had gut feelings that he did it, but we didn't have evidence. There were no recordings," she said. "Anytime we found him guilty, there had to be evidence."

This was Wilson's first time on a jury. Being a working mom and skilled multi-tasker, she described the experience as simultaneously fascinating and boring, because of all the long court breaks spent sequestered in a small room.

Wilson was constantly in contact with the student teacher who took over her job for the last six weeks of school, and often stopped at her house before or after the day's court proceedings to drop things off or go over lesson plans.

"I feel guilty about my students, and how I disrupted the end of their school year," she said. "I want to apologize to my kids and their parents. I was still very much involved, but from afar."

The trial was exhausting and disruptive to Wilson's family life, too, leaving errands and chores to her husband. On Tuesday, her phone rang every five minutes with reporters and friends wanting to hear about her experience.

"I'm ready to go back to my normal life," she said.

Wilson said the jurors got along very well, celebrated three birthdays together (including hers), and nicknamed themselves "The Singing Jury" because at least a few times a week, they called a fellow juror's friend or relative and all sang "Happy Birthday" into the phone.

The jurors called and texted each other Tuesday, but Wilson wouldn't comment on whether they're planning a reunion. One of the jurors lives in downstate Peru and was commuting 2 hours each way to court.

"It was a bonding experience unlike anything I've ever known," she said.