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Local Editorials

Blagojevich on defense as trial nears conclusion

Television reruns rarely attract the same audience and attention as they did the first time around.

The retrial of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich seems to be playing out the same way.

Last summer, the 6-week trial kept Illinoisans’ attention as revelation after unsavory revelation about their former governor came forth from the federal courtroom in Chicago.

There was so much testimony and documentation that many people had trouble making sense of it all. That included the first jury, whose members convicted Blagojevich on just one corruption charge – lying to the FBI – but could not reach verdicts on 23 other charges.

Blagojevich and his wife also were a daily spectacle last summer as they entered and left the courthouse amid crowds of supporters and curious onlookers.

This time around, there is little new information coming out of the courtroom, so coverage – and public interest – is less than before.

The media frenzy is less. The last time the Associated Press moved a fresh Blagojevich photo taken at the trial scene was 3 weeks ago.

Federal prosecutors greatly simplified their case, reducing the corruption counts to 20, reducing their witnesses to 15, and presenting their case in a nifty 3 weeks – half the time of last year’s trial.

Blagojevich’s legal team did not present a defense at the first trial, but they say they plan to do so this time. The defense is scheduled to begin its case Wednesday.

What will that defense be?

Blagojevich’s lawyers must deal with the federal government’s five main charges:

– That Blagojevich tried to sell an appointment to a U.S. Senate seat, once held by President Barack Obama; and

– That Blagojevich sought campaign contributions in exchange for four public acts: providing a state grant to a school, sending more state money to a hospital, supporting a boost in tollway construction, and signing a bill beneficial to the horse racing industry.

The defense team has active subpoenas for “people of some prominence and activities,” according to Blagojevich lawyer Sheldon Sorosky. They include Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, D-Chicago.

However, the big question is, Will Blagojevich take the stand in his own defense?

At the first trial, after promising that he would testify, he didn’t. No such promises were made this time.

With potential convictions threatening to send Blagojevich, 54, to prison for many years, the defense team has its work cut out for it. Unlike the prosecution, however, it does not have the previous trial to use as a template, since the defense rested without calling witnesses the first time.

As the trial nears its cliffhanger finale, more Illinoisans likely will watch. And why not? Unlike TV reruns, the ending is bound to be different.

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