Blagojevich ends testimony at retrial

CHICAGO (AP) — Twice-elected Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich ended the most important campaign of his life Tuesday, stepping down from the witness stand at his corruption retrial after speaking to jurors for seven days.

In often long-winded answers, Blagojevich insisted before jurors that he never sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat for a top job or campaign cash, or ever tried to shake down executives for contributions.

He argued that his talk captured on FBI wiretaps was merely brainstorming, and that he never took the schemes seriously or decided to carry them out. And though the judge barred such arguments, Blagojevich claimed he’d believed his conversations were legal and part of common political discourse.

As he stepped off the stand, Blagojevich tried to shake hands with the prosecutor who had been grilling him, but the government attorney turned away. Judge James Zagel told jurors not to read anything into it, saying it was protocol for prosecutors not to interact with defendants once they’re off the stand.

Zagel said the defense plans to call two more witnesses Wednesday, when the government could be ready to deliver its closing arguments. The defense would then present its closing. Zagel said he expected jurors to begin deliberating as soon as Thursday.

Blagojevich left the courthouse Tuesday without speaking to reporters, though he did stop to shake hands with well-wishers outside. He hasn’t spoken publicly since taking the stand.

The former governor’s first trial last year ended with jurors deadlocked on all but one count. He was found guilty of lying to the FBI. He did not testify at that trial.

Blagojevich’s tried to bob and weave under the sometimes aggressive cross-examination this time, occasionally stuttering, catching himself and starting again. His answers often ran on and frequently appeared to contradict his own words captured on the wiretaps.

Seeming emotional at times while speaking about his family and showing anger as he denied the charges, Blagojevich endeavored to win over jurors who will decide his fate. If they find him guilty on even a few charges, he could face up to decades in jail.

How jurors reacted was hard to tell. Sitting just a few feet from Blagojevich as he testified, they sat mostly expressionless. Occasionally, some laughed at a wisecrack or shook their heads at something he said.

Terry Sullivan, a former state’s attorney who helped prosecute serial killer John Wayne Gacy and who has sat through much of Blagojevich’s testimony, said the former governor did much better than expected.

“I don’t think he was manhandled by the prosecution, although that might have been a strategy so that they didn’t look like tyrants in front of the jury,” he said.

Blagojevich’s lawyer brought up several issues in their redirect to clear them up, and can now argue them to the jury at closing arguments, Sullivan said.

He said he was surprised the prosecution didn’t question Blagojevich again after the redirect, but said that also may have been a strategy to avoid giving the former governor a chance to reiterate points and perhaps persuade a juror.

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