Recommend this article

No mention of Rod Blagojevich hiding in the bathroom, details about lavish shopping or drawn-out questioning of witnesses.

Heading into the third week of the ousted Illinois governor's corruption retrial, it's clear prosecutors are guided by the adage that less is more as they streamline what jurors in the first trial complained was an overly complicated case.

"They've made the case a lot of easier to follow," said James Matsumoto, who was the foreman at the initial trial and has attended much of the testimony at the second, this time sitting on spectator benches rather than in the jury box.

Prosecutors have been right, he added, to begin their presentation by focusing primarily on the allegation Blagojevich sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job. Last year, they waited weeks before getting to it.

"It's the strongest part of the case," Matsumoto said.

Starting sometime next week, prosecutors are expected to delve deeper into allegations Blagojevich tried to shakedown a children's hospital, a school and others for campaign donations.

Jurors last year deadlocked on 23 of 24 charges, agreeing only to convict Blagojevich of lying to the FBI. Prosecutors later dropped confounding racketeering charges, so Blagojevich faces 20 counts this time.

Previous jurors had described their frustration trying to understand the chronology of Blagojevich's alleged crimes, noting they took it on themselves to draw up a makeshift timeline and tape it to a jury room wall.

Prosecutors said this week that they intend in the coming days to introduce timelines into evidence that jurors can use once they start deliberating.

The length of time spent presenting details about Blagojevich's personal habits also left the first trial's jurors scratching their heads. However sensational, they just didn't seem relevant to his alleged wrongdoing, Matsumoto said.

IRS agent Shari Schindler spent hours on the stand last year describing how Blagojevich and his wife spent more than $400,000 on tailored suits, ties and other fine clothes in a six-year shopping spree. So detailed was the testimony that prosecutors even displayed dozens of itemized credit card statements on a screen showing, among other things, that Blagojevich spent $1,302.53 on ties in one day in April 2006.

"That was all distracting, extraneous stuff," Matsumoto said. "It just confused jurors."

On the stand this week, Schindler noted only in passing that the Blagojeviches spent a large amount of money on clothes. Prosecutors did not ask her to provide any detail.

The former foreman also said he and his colleagues were confused by the hours of testimony the government devoted last year to describing how Blagojevich appeared disengaged from state government affairs.

Former Blagojevich deputy governor Bob Greenlee testified last year that his boss often spent just a few hours a week at the office. In some of the first trial's most memorable testimony, he also said Blagojevich would hide in a bathroom to evade a budget director who wanted to talk policy.

Greenlee didn't mention any of that during a day of testimony for the government this week.

FBI wiretaps also have been subject to prosecutors' efforts to avoid clutter at the retrial, where they've played many of the same conversations as last year, only shorter clips.

Laying out such a truncated case does carry its own risks: Jurors impressed by sheer volumes of testimony and exhibits could be left wanting more, if not necessarily better, evidence.

What's not in doubt is that the stripped-down case has thrown off defense lawyers, who likely spent weeks preparing to ask cross-examination questions about subjects that prosecutors didn't bring up this time.

"The government is asking witnesses a condensed amount of questions ... it completely obliterates our ability to ask anything meaningfully," Blagojevich attorney Lauren Kaeseberg told Judge James Zagel this week.

The defense didn't put on a case at the last trial, perhaps recognizing prosecutors' own presentation was muddled. The tighter, cleaner case will put pressure on Blagojevich attorneys to mount a defense this time.

Matsumoto is among those who think Blagojevich's attorneys have their work cut out for them. From his own observations at the retrial and from discussions with other spectators, he believes convictions on multiple counts are likely.

"I've heard others who attended both trials say, `Ah, now I get what prosecutors are trying to say,'" he said. "I think these jurors will get it, too."

Recommend this article