Blago lawyer: Don't punish him for state history

CHICAGO (AP) - December 6, 2011

In comments that could signal a lengthy prison sentence for Blagojevich, Judge James Zagel made it clear that he did not believe the suggestion made by defense attorneys that Blagojevich was duped by aides and advisers.

"There is no question from his tone of voice that he was demanding," Zagel said of Blagojevich's comments on phone conversations secretly recorded by the FBI. "His role as leader is clearly shown by his actions."

And in his first openly harsh assessment of Blagojevich's performance on the witness stand, Zagel said Blagojevich was lying when he testified that he planned to appoint the state's attorney general to Obama's seat in a legal political deal.

"I think this is untrue," he said. "I thought it was untrue when he said it and I think it is still untrue."

Blagojevich, who sat at a defense table in a dark pinstripe suit, was expected to address Zagel later in the hearing. Legal experts have said he needs to display some remorse. But the big unknown is whether the often cocksure ex-governor will beg for mercy or yet again protest his innocence.

Before proceedings began, Blagojevich stood, rubbing his hands and occasionally biting his lip. His wife Patti sat behind him on a spectators' bench. Their two daughters were not present.

The impeached state executive-turned-reality TV star has good reason to feel anxious at the two-day hearing. He faces the prospect of 10 or more years behind bars. If Zagel settles on a sentence of more than a decade, that would make it one of the stiffest penalties imposed for corruption in a state with a tradition of crooked politics.

That history shouldn't count against Blagojevich, his attorney told the judge. Carolyn Gurland said it would be unfair to Blagojevich for Zagel impose a stiffer sentence because of previous officials sent to prison such as former Gov. George Ryan and Congressman Dan Rostenkowski.

"The law is clear that he should not be punished because of the history of corruption in Illinois," she said.

If Blagojevich gets the sentence prosecutors recommended, she said, he would become the most severely punished public official in state history.

Prosecutors want the twice-elected governor sentenced to 15 to 20 years, arguing that he has not only shirked all responsibility for his crimes but repeatedly thumbed his nose at the U.S. justice system.

Blagojevich's attorneys have said he has already paid a price in public ridicule and financial ruin, and propose a term of just a few years. They have also taken an approach judges often frown upon at the sentencing stage: Continuing to insist their client is innocent.

Gurland told the judge that it isn't true Blagojevich hasn't grasped the severity of his legal plight, but she seemed to stop short of saying he accepted responsibility, saying only "Mr. Blagojevich has faced up to the fact of his conviction."

But she also argued that the case was exceptional, saying the public wasn't harmed. Gurland said Zagel should take into account the fact that Blagojevich did not "receive a single penny" in ill-gotten gains - unlike other cases in which politicians were convicted of public corruption.

"Rod Blagojevich received nothing," she said, adding that Blagojevich was doing what politicians do - seeking campaign contributions, not "money stuffed into envelopes."

Gurland also said a lengthy prison sentence would devastate Blagojevich's wife and two daughters. She told Zagel that Blagojevich is a devoted father and his daughters will grow to become very different people if Blagojevich is locked up for several years.

Blagojevich and his wife knew they were setting themselves up for public ridicule by appearing on reality television shows, she said, but they did so to provide for their children. Blagojevich appeared on "Celebrity Apprentice," where he struggled to use a cell phone, and his wife, Patti, ate a tarantula on the reality show, "I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!"

Both sides could finish their pitches to Zagel during Tuesday's hearing, which was moved to a large ceremonial courtroom to accommodate expected crowds. Among the attendees were more than a dozen jurors from both trials, including both foremen.

Zagel says he'll wait until Wednesday to pronounce a sentence. He must consider issues including whether any good Blagojevich accomplished as governor counterbalances the bad.

The first person to testify on Blagojevich's behalf was Dr. Deanna Monroe. The Chicago pediatrician praised the "All Kids" health insurance program that Blagojevich created, saying many children wouldn't be treated without it.

Blagojevich's sentencing comes just days before his 55th birthday and three years to the week of his Dec. 9, 2008, arrest. The jury deadlocked in his first trial, agreeing on just one of 24 counts - that Blagojevich lied to the FBI. Jurors at his recent retrial convicted him on 17 of 20 counts, including bribery.

After sentencing, Zagel will likely give Blagojevich weeks before he must report to prison. Once there, the man heard scoffing on FBI wiretaps about earning a low six-figure salary would have to take a prison job - possibly scrubbing toilets - at just 12 cents an hour.

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