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The Holdout Juror

"What [the other] jurors are being too polite to say is that that one holdout juror was somehow just, I mean, crazy," Rob Wildeboer of WBEZ said on Chicago Tonight on Wednesday night.

"Not crazy obviously, but given what the evidence showed, how could that person not - it was overwhelming evidence and they all agreed on it, how could she not see what they all saw. There's no real good reason that any of the jurors have given for why that holdout juror was a holdout juror."

Indeed. And according to the form she filled out when she went through jury selection, she even listens to NPR!

"She had a different interpretation of the facts as they were set upon us, and it didn't gibe with the rest of us," juror Robert Schindler told Phil Ponce in a separate segment.

Is the holdout juror - Jo Ann Chiakulas of Willowbrook - nuts? Or did she simply pay too much attention to seeing Blago on Leno - which she did - than to the jury instructions and the government's wiretaps?

The jury took up Robert Blagojevich first, thinking it would be an easier way to start, before realizing that they had to determine first if Rod was guilty.

Still, they held an early vote on Robert and "It occurred to me that we had a problem," jury foreman James Matsumoto told Ponce.

They were six days in when they found the verdict forms in their basket of materials. That, they said, gave them a roadmap; they essentially started over.

Still, the count that could fairly be described as the weakest going in - the alleged selling of Barack Obama's Senate seat - was a slam dunk to everyone but Chiakulas once deliberations began.

SCHINDLER: What finally brought me over on the Senate seat count was the opportunity to put the testimony aside and listen to the tapes sequentially and get the flow . . . It became clear to me that the crime had been committed.

MATSUMOTO: I felt the same way. It was up putting laying up on layer with each conversation . . . I decided that he was actually trying to sell that Senate seat, for Secretary of Health and Human Services, and also the things he said. I felt at that particular point he was desperate or campaign funds and funds to help his own financial situation.

SCHINDLER: To me as much as anything it was the pattern and the development of fallback positions. It became more and more clear that the objective was to get the best that he could for that decision.

MATSUMOTO: We already knew it was only attempts, attempts to commit conspiracy . . . because he didn't get the money. It didn't' matter, because he took a 'significant step' . . .

SCHINDLER: The [jury] instructions were clear.

PONCE: Did you argue about that?

MATSUMOTO: There were some who didn't see . . . she had said if there was something that was definitive . . . there was layer upon layer and you made logical inferences . . .

*

In a separate segment, former U.S. Attorney Jim Burns said "it sounds like a bit of a nullification vote."

That's also what Terry Ekl, the attorney for John Harris, told the Daily Herald:

"What the defense did was really jury nullification. It was not about following the law. They said, 'Well, it was just talk. He's broke.' But, that's what conspiracy is. Even if he just intended to get something, he's guilty. You probably had two or three jurors who didn't understand that even just talking is still a crime."

Ekl said he thought Blagojevich would be found guilty across the board on all counts.

*

WILDEBOER: There was undisputable evidence that Blagogojvich was out for himself when it came to that Senate seat. He was trying to get something for himself. I don't see how anybody reasonable could sit in that courtroom, hear that evidence and not come to that conclusion. You've got him on tape saying things like 'Maybe I can get a deal for four years and a million dollars or $750,000 but it's gotta be good.' So the fact that there was one juror that didn't buy into that, I think it's interesting to note -

PONCE: She wanted to see the payoff . . .

WILDEBOER: - but we heard the two jurors sitting here tonight saying we understand that there's a difference between a completed act and an attempt, so the prosecution really proved its case on that part, and what [the other] jurors are being too polite to say is that that one holdout juror was somehow just, I mean, crazy. Not crazy obviously, but given what the evidence showed, how could that person not - it was overwhelming evidence and they all agreed on it, how could she not see what they all saw. There's no real good reason that any of the jurors have given for why that holdout juror was a holdout juror.

*

The Senate seat count was the most sensational, but it was by no means the most airtight - as airtight as it was. NBC5's Phil Rogers pointed out that prosecutors opened and closed with the count alleging that Blagojevich tried to shake down a children's hospital, a charge the he called "pretty close to a slam dunk."

And the count alleging that Rahm Emanuel have his brother hold a fundraiser in exchange for releasing state money to a school in Emanuel's then-congressional district?

The evidence on that count seemed absolutely crystal clear," Rogers said. "Were they watching a different case than we were?"

Yet, more jurors thought Blagojevich was not guilty than guilty on that count. What happened, Ponce asked the jurors. Any ideas?

"I really don't [have any ideas]," Schindler said. "I saw it as a guilty situation. And we talked about it more than once, in more than one approach. Each time we would hold a vote and we could never get close one way or another."

*

WILDEBOER: In the jury instructions it said if the governor was trying to get something of personal gain, then that's a crime. How those two didn't get matched up here I don't understand.

*

So far, Chiakulas isn't speaking up for herself.

"A juror in Rod Blagojevich's trial, which ended Tuesday, lives in Willowbrook, but has not returned calls for comment," the Burr Ridge Doings-Weekly reports.

"Jo Ann Chiakulas, 67, bought a town house in the Stanhope Square subdivision in January 2006. She had previously lived for years in Chicago.

"Chiakulas is a former state employee, having been appointed special assistant for minority affairs in the Illinois Department of Public Health in 1991.

"Chiakulas also was director of the Chicago Urban League's Young Parents Center for over 10 years and was coordinator for the state's Parents Too Soon program."

*

"She is a black woman in her 60s, according to testimony during jury selection," Chuck Goudie reports. "She is divorced and lives in suburban Willowbrook. The juror has a college degree. She retired in 1999 as director of a state public health department center. She is active with the Chicago Urban League and in some local politics and has donated to national candidates. Juror 106 watches national news, listens to public radio and liberal talk shows. She heard and read about the Blagojevich case but said she wouldn't be influenced by it."

*

For a time on Thursday some of us thought we had stumbled upon an extraordinary revelation: that Chiakulas was a precinct captain for Ald. Sandi Jackson.

Here's what led us - seemingly - astray:

"Jurors No. 106 and No. 126 won't make the cut," the Chicago News Cooperative reported in June. "No. 106 said she worked as a precinct captain to Sandi Jackson, the wife of Democratic Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., who has been subpoenaed by the defense. The woman brought out the heartiest chuckle from the courtroom crowd yesterday when Zagel asked if she had recalled seeing either Rod or Patti Blagojevich on television and she said that she had seen Patti on a reality show, 'something about bugs.' The juror was referring to Patti's appearance on NBC's I'm a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here."

Chiakulas is Juror No. 106.

But hold on.The Sun-Times reported at the time that "No. 102 told the judge she is a precinct captain who's done work for Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson's office. The defense has subpoenaed Jackson's husband, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., as a potential witness in the trial."

So it appears there was simply a mix-up.

Interestingly, ironically and presciently, though, the Blago-Report paired Nos. 102 and 106 in its report back then:

"Juror #102 seemed rather eager to be on the jury and emphasized what a fair person she could be. Blagojevich was vigorously nodding while she was talking, and watching intently (as opposed to his usual head bowed, taking notes posture he adopted during most of the interviews). Her eagerness might make her a volatile juror for both sides, and the positive things that Blagojevich liked might make her a candidate for a peremptory challenge by the prosecution. Blagojevich also seemed to like juror #106 - who did community work - and she could be another candidate for a prosecution dismissal.

"Juror #106 said she has gotten some of what she knows about Blagojevich from Jay Leno, which got a broad smile and a big laugh from the former governor."

There you have it. Maybe Chiakulas will get booked next.

-

Comments welcome.



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Posted on August 20, 2010


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