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Blagojevich Sentencing Hearing Starts


The public corruption saga of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is nearing an end. Earlier this year, he was found guilty of 18 counts of corruption, including trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Obama. Today, a federal judge begins a hearing to determine Blagojevich's sentence. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: If federal prosecutors have their way, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich will serve 15 to 20 years in prison. Blagojevich attorneys seek a much lower sentence - three to four years or even probation. During his first trial, Blagojevich was found guilty of only one charge, but the jury in his re-trial added 17 more convictions. A typically loquacious Blagojevich was nearly speechless as he and his wife stood before a crowd of reporters.

ROD BLAGOJEVICH: Well among the many lessons that I've learned from this whole experience is to try to speak a little bit less. So I'm going to keep my remarks kind of short. Patti and I obviously are very disappointed in the outcome. I, frankly, am stunned.

CORLEY: Prosecutors said the FBI wiretaps of Blagojevich's often profanity-filled phone conversations showed how the former governor tried to use state government to make money for himself. They said this tape, for instance, was Blagojevich telling aides he must get something in return for appointing someone to the Senate seat vacated by President Obama.

BLAGOJEVICH: I mean, you guys are telling me I've just got to suck it up for two years and do nothing. Give this (bleep) his senator. For nothing? (Bleep) him.

CORLEY: Blagojevich professed his innocence on TV and radio shows and to anyone who would listen. During his retrial he testified, calling his phone conversations bluster and hot air, nothing illegal. It was an argument jury foreman Connie Wilson said the jury did not accept.

CONNIE WILSON: We know that there's a lot of bargaining that goes on behind the scenes. We do that in our everyday lives, in business and everything. But I think in this instance when it is someone representing the people, it crosses the line.

CORLEY: The Blagojevich team hopes the tapes will be a boon to the former governor during today's sentencing hearing. Although the judge had rejected a request by Blagojevich to play snippets of previously un-played tapes, attorney Sheldon Sorosky asked for permission to do so again.

SHELDON SOROSKY: Well we just want to present a full and complete picture to Judge Zagel.

CORLEY: Ron Safer, a former federal prosecutor, says Judge James Zagel will use sentencing guidelines and other factors in determining the sentence. He says what Blagojevich can not do is continue to profess his innocence.

RON SAFER: The ship has sailed. The jury has found him guilty. Now the question is, how severe will the sentence be.

CORLEY: Blagojevich co-conspirator Tony Rezko was just sentenced to 10 and a half years in prison. George Ryan, the governor who preceded Blagojevich, received a six and a half year sentence on corruption charges. Patrick Collins, the former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted George Ryan, says like Ryan, Blagojevich will have to find a way to apologize for his actions.

PATRICK COLLINS: Even Blagojevich, for maintaining his innocence, he could find a way to look the court in the eye and credibly say, Judge, I'm really sorry for how this has played out.

CORLEY: Collins says he doesn't believe that will happen. So what will Blagojevich say? His attorney Sheldon Sorosky gave no hints when he spoke with reporters last week.

SOROSKY: Rod Blagojevich is his own man and he will say what he feels is most appropriate.

CORLEY: Rod Blagojevich's sentencing hearing is expected to last all day, and Judge Zagel says it may well continue into tomorrow. Zagel says he has some questions to ask before sentencing the former governor and bringing one of the most highly publicized cases of public corruption in Illinois to a close.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.


WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.