The judge at the corruption retrial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he expects the prosecution to rest Thursday, meaning the government's condensed case at the second trial will have been far shorter than at the first.
In discussing scheduling matters at the end of testimony Wednesday, prosecutors told U.S. District Judge James Zagel they should be able to get through their four remaining witnesses within just a few hours on Thursday.
Defense attorneys have not said whether they will call witnesses, but if they decide to do so, Zagel said they should be able to do that starting Monday. At the first trial, Blagojevich's attorneys didn't call a single witness.
Although he didn't explain why, Zagel said he thought it "highly unlikely" that Blagojevich's attorneys would choose not to mount a defense this time. If they do, he anticipated closing arguments could take place May 31.
Prosecutors have heeded complaints from members of last year's jury that their case was too complicated. Jurors at that trial deadlocked on all but one charge, convicting him of lying to the FBI.
The government drastically simplified its case this time by asking witnesses fewer questions and not lingering on any matters not directly related to the charges.
Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges at the retrial, including that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a high-profile job, and that he attempted to shake down businesses for campaign donations. He has denied any wrongdoing.
In their 2 1/2-week presentation at the second trial, prosecutors had called a dozen witnesses as of Wednesday. By the time they rest, they will have called fewer than 20. Some 30 witnesses testified over six weeks at the first trial.
The defense complained about the truncated case in a Wednesday filing, saying defense attorneys based their opening statement to jurors on evidence the government signaled it would enter _ but never did. It accused prosecutors of withdrawing any evidence the defense alluded to in the openings and making "the defense lawyers look like liars to the jury."
"The government's tactics are fundamentally unfair, they are abusive and they do not comport with the ends of justice," the filing says.
In court Wednesday, frustrations by the lead prosecutor also boiled over as he accused the defense of persisting in dressing up arguments in the form of cross-examination questions despite the judge repeated warnings.
"It's gone on long enough and it's got to stop," a visibly angry Reid Schar said.
Zagel agreed and took the extra step of directly telling jurors not to regard questions as evidence, several jurors nodding their heads that they understood.
The point of contention Wednesday was the cross-examination of Lon Monk, Blagojevich's law school buddy-turned-top aide who has testified that Blagojevich tried to shake down executives for campaign cash.
Defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky drew repeated objections as he endeavored to dent Monk's credibility by portraying him as a privileged doctor's son who betrayed the trust of his old friend _ a son of a Serbian immigrant factory worker.
"Is it fair to say, you were the rich kid from California and (Blagojevich) was the poor kid from the northwest side of Chicago?" Sorosky asked. The judge ruled the question impermissible before Monk could answer.
As Monk testified, a subdued Blagojevich fixed his eyes on his friend of more than 20 years. Monk appeared tired, resting his elbow on the stand as he spoke.
Monk, who was Blagojevich's first chief of staff, pleaded guilty in 2009 to trying to squeeze racetrack owner John Johnston for a $100,000 campaign contribution. That's among the charges against Blagojevich.
Sorosky pointed to Monk's cooperation with the government, hinting at a character flaw in being willing to turn on Blagojevich.
"He hired you because he trusted you and you were his friend?" Sorosky said, over prosecutors' objections. When Sorosky asked again, "He trusted you, did he not?" Monk replied, "Yeah, he trusted me."