Blago’s lawyer reads emotional letters from family

CHICAGO (AP) — Rod Blagojevich’s attorneys admitted Tuesday for the first time that the former Illinois governor is guilty of corruption, saying at his sentencing hearing that he accepts the verdicts against him but the prison term requested by prosecutors is too harsh.

Those comments are in stark contrast to Blagojevich’s public statements, in which he adamantly maintained his innocence through two trials since his arrest three years ago.

Attorney Sheldon Sorosky told Judge James Zagel that it was illegal for Blagojevich to ask for a job for himself in exchange for his naming of a replacement for President Obama in the U.S. Senate.

“There’s no doubt this is a crime to do this in relation to the Senate seat, we accept that,” Sorosky said. “I am just saying that does not call for a 15 to 20 year jail” term.

Sorosky made the same argument when he talked about the other crimes for which the former governor was convicted — shaking down a racetrack executive and a hospital executive, as well as lying to the FBI.

But he said none of Blagojevich’s actions merit the sentence recommended by prosecutors.

Blagojevich, who sat at a defense table in a dark pinstripe suit, was expected to address Zagel on Wednesday, the second day of the hearing. Legal experts have said he needs to display some remorse.

Zagel, who has said he’ll pronounce a sentence Wednesday, said earlier that Blagojevich was clearly the ringleader of the schemes for which he was convicted, and lied about his actions on the witness stand. In comments that could signal a lengthy prison sentence, Zagel made it clear that he did not believe a 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 a harsh assessment of Blagojevich’s performance on the witness stand, Zagel said the former governor 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,” Zagel said. “I thought it was untrue when he said it and I think it is still untrue.”

An attorney for Blagojevich pleaded with the judge not to impose a lengthy prison sentence — not for his sake, but for his family.

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