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Details emerge after Blagojevich defense files appeal on corruption conviction

Rod Blagojevich is shown in this file photo.
July 16, 2013 3:52:47 PM PDT
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is appealing his conviction on corruption charges, or, at least, asking for a reduced prison sentence.

He was convicted on 18 counts of corruption, including attempting to sell or trade a U.S. Senate seat, over two trials. Jurors deadlocked on all but one count in the first trial in 2010, and found him guilty on 17 other charges in the second trial. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Lawyers for Rod Blagojevich barely beat a midnight deadline to file an appeal for his conviction on corruption charges. The nearly 100-page brief argues that the lower court and federal prosecutors stacked the decks against him. Some of the arguments in the appeal we've heard before from Blagojevich himself: Listen to all the tapes. What I did was political, not criminal. But if those arguments were rejected at trial, they're an even tougher sell on appeal.

In the nearly 100-page brief, the defense takes aim at Judge James Zagel, calling his conduct at trial "one-sided."

"He's a very well-respected judge, a brilliant judge, but people are human. And people make mistakes," said Leonard Goodman, attorney for Blagojevich.

Goodman is new to the Blagojevich defense team brought on recently for the appeal and says Judge Zagel, through his pretrial rulings, prevented the defense from presenting its most effective argument: that the shakedowns and fraud were in fact political horse-trading.

"They instructed the jury that a political deal, something that's always been understood as a political deal, was a crime," said Goodman.

The defense says Judge Zagel excluded wiretap evidence helpful to Blagojevich and barred his so-called "good faith defense." The former governor's attempt to tell jurors from the stand that he thought the bribes he was soliciting were legal, just a part of politics.

But that argument, according to jury member Karin Wilson, likely would have fallen flat anyway.

"I think our statement was that what happens in politics is not right and that people need to start standing up and saying those things are not okay," said Karin Wilson, jury member.

The arguments made in the appeal, stand in stark contrast to Blagojevich's own words on the day he was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

"I made terrible mistakes," Blagojevich said before Judge Zagel. "They were my mistakes, my actions. I am responsible. I caused it all."

"We all kind of had the feeling that he never really said that what he really did was wrong, that he had made mistakes but not admitting that he had really done anything wrong," said Wilson.

The appeal will be considered by a three judge panel, which could order a new trial, or reduce the former governor's sentence. But is it likely?

"They have to prove not that the judge was wrong, but that he abused his discretion. So that's a very very high standard," said Ron Safer, former federal prosecutor.

Judge Zagel and the U.S. Attorney's office declined to comment on the appeal. Prosecutors have until August 14th to file their response. The former governor has now been in prison 16 months.

Attorney Len Goodman says Blagojevich has been doing some writing and he's even playing in a jailhouse band.


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