CHICAGO – By dropping all charges against Rod Blagojevich’s brother on Thursday, the federal government removed what had become an obstacle to their primary mission: convicting the impeached Illinois governor in a retrial now set for early next year.
Jurors who deadlocked last week on all but one of 24 charges in the first trial described the case against Robert Blagojevich as by far the weaker of the two. And they said the former Army officer presented an earnest, sympathetic figure when he insisted on the witness stand that he and his brother did nothing wrong.
Robert Blagojevich’s attorneys said prosecutors first signaled their desire to simplify their strategy on Wednesday when they privately offered to separate his case from the former governor’s. Still, he was surprised when the government dropped the charges instead.
“When it comes to my brother I’ve become accustomed to being an afterthought,” Robert Blagojevich said while celebrating at his son’s Chicago condo.
Legal analysts said it was a rare but strategic step by the government.
“It is a very smart move on the part of prosecutors,” said Bill Healy, a Chicago-based jury consultant. “This should really worry Rod, because they can focus like a laser on him now. The prosecution’s going to have a stronger case the second time ’round.”
Judge James Zagel said Rod Blagojevich’s retrial will start the week of Jan. 4. He said he probably won’t allow the ex-governor more than two taxpayer-funded lawyers when the case begins anew.
Rod Blagojevich’s attorneys argued that he needed the half-dozen attorneys he had during the first trial.
In court, prosecutors said their decision to drop charges against Robert Blagojevich was based on his less central role in alleged schemes to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat.
Some jurors said the panel was close to acquitting Robert on at least one count and were split on another three.
Robert Blagojevich’s first reaction to the news was, “Oh my god, you’re kidding!” his lawyer, Michael Ettinger, said.
“The government failed to prove their case against my brother,” he added. “With the exception of one charge. He’s now a convicted felon. … He’s been impeached, he’s been shamed, he’s been disgraced as a governor – I don’t know how much more you can do to a guy.”
Robert Blagojevich worked as his brother’s campaign manager for only four months in 2008. He was seldom heard on the FBI wiretaps that were central to the case.
“What happened to my brother should have never happened, and I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am for my brother and for his family that this nightmare for them is finally over,” Rod Blagojevich said.