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Blagojevich corruption trial begins in Chicago

Trial Of Former IL Governor Rod Blagojevich Begins In Chicago
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich listens to his wife Patti talk to reporters after they arrived for trial on corruption charges at the Dirksen Federal Building on Thursday in Chicago.Jeff Haynes / Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

The judge in the corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich seated a jury Tuesday, then postponed any decision on a request by the former governor's attorneys to dismiss fraud and racketeering charges against him.

Judge James B. Zagel named 18 jurors — a panel of 12 and six alternates. Opening statements were expected later in the day.

The former governor has pleaded not guilty to profiting from his power by trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. He also denies that he plotted to turn his power as governor into a moneymaking scheme for himself and insiders.

Blagojevich appeared upbeat earlier as he made his way through the courthouse security and addressed reporters.

The 53-year-old said he was happy that opening statements would take place soon because the public would be able to hear "all the things I've been dying to tell you for the last year and a half."

Heading into the courthouse, Blagojevich told reporters that prosecutors "hid the truth and are keeping it in a locked box."

He told a reporter, "You get to witness history."

Blagojevich's lawyers had asked Zagel earlier Tuesday to throw out the corruption charges against him, saying they violated his freedom of speech. The judge was firm, though, that opening statements would be Tuesday.

"We are going to have opening statements today — and since you are going last you might want to shorten yours," he told one of Blagojevich's attorneys, Sam Adam Jr., who is known for his theatrical style.

Adam had asked for huge two and a half hours for his opening.

The no-nonsense Zagel, who gave the impression in the first three days of jury selection that he doesn't want proceedings to drag on unnecessarily, had said Monday that Adam would get an hour and 45 minutes.

It was Adam's defense of R. Kelly that sent his stock soaring in legal circles. Jurors appeared rapt as they listened to his emotion-filled, apparently decisive closing. He banged on the jury's box with his fist, he laughed and pleaded for jurors to acquit his superstar client.

He had said Monday that he expected to be just as emotional and energetic in his opening statement for Blagojevich.

"I don't know anything else," he said. "I'll be sweating, I'll be moving."

Prosecutors, in contrast, are expected to favor a just-the-facts-ma'am style -- laying out their arguments to jurors as well as playing hours of wiretap recordings in cool, calm confidence. They also expect to be comparatively succinct in their opening, telling Zagel they would need about an hour to address the jury.

Federal prosecutor Carrie E. Hamilton is a cool and methodical veteran prosecutor who nevertheless opened the trial of Tony Rezko, one of Blagojevich's top fundraisers, memorably by describing him as "the man behind the curtain, pulling the strings." Rezko was convicted of fraud and other offenses.

The ex-governor's co-defendant — and brother — Robert Blagojevich, 54, a Nashville, Tenn., businessman, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged plan to sell the Senate seat and plotting to illegally squeeze a racetrack owner for a hefty contribution to the Blagojevich campaign fund.

Interest in the trial was high. The main courtroom and another overflow courtroom with audio feeds from the trial were filled to capacity.