Blagojevich jury selection enters last stretch

AP News
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Posted: Apr 26, 2011 4:11 AM
Blagojevich jury selection enters last stretch

A federal judge hopes to begin winding down the jury-selection stage of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption retrial on Tuesday by questioning a last batch of prospective jurors.

Through Monday, 25 would-be jurors questioned so far by Judge James Zagel made the initial cut and remained in the jury pool. Zagel has said he wants 40 in that pool before making final decisions _ possibly as soon as Tuesday afternoon _ about the 12 jurors and six alternates who will sit in the jury box.

Among those Zagel kept in the jury pool on Monday are a video-store worker who likes to watch Judge Judy, a woman worried about not being able to use her tickets to an upcoming Oprah Winfrey show, a woman in her 70s who said she makes up to 50 quilts a year and a data administrator who plays drums part time in a rock-and-roll band.

Zagel agreed Monday to dismiss about half of the would-be jurors questioned, including a journalist at the Chicago Tribune, a psychologist who said he had two suicidal patients who depended on him and a man who had been laid off for months but only recently found a new job.

In his first trial, Blagojevich was found guilty of lying to the FBI but jurors couldn't reach a verdict on any other charges against him. Those included charges related to allegations that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat in exchange for campaign cash or a job after he left office.

The final stage of jury selection involves the defense and prosecutors using their rights to strike some people from the pool without giving a reason.

Nearly 50 potential jurors have been questioned over two days, all of whom told Zagel they heard at least something about last year's trial. The judge decided to keep some in the jury pool who said they formed unfavorable opinions of Blagojevich, saying he accepted their assurances that they could set aside any biases and judge the case on the evidence alone.

Zagel has said he would like to have a jury in place by Wednesday, meaning opening statements could start by Thursday. The retrial is not expected to last as long as the first 2 1/2-month trial, in part because prosecutors have streamlined their case by dropping complex racketeering charges.