Friday, August 27, 2010

So-Called "Holdout" Blagojevich Juror Speaks Out

Media headlines describe JoAnn Chiakulas as the "holdout" juror in the trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. This label, however, implies that she acted unreasonably when she decided that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Blagojevich conspired to sell the US Senate seat that President Obama once held.

Now, Chiakulas has told her side of the story during an interview with the Chicago Tribune. Based on this interview, Chiakulas seems quite reasonable and professional.

Chiakulas comes across as a very level headed and conscientious juror. She tells the Chicago Tribune that "I could never live with myself if I went along with the rest of the jury. . . .I didn't believe it was the correct vote for me."

The Chicago Tribune explains why Chiakulas believed that the prosecution failed to meet its burden:
Chiakulas said she found Blagojevich's recorded statements on the Senate vacancy to be so scattered and disorganized that his actions did not reach the level of a criminal conspiracy.

One day he chattered about being the Indian ambassador, for example, then in the next conversation he discussed another plan. In the space of a few weeks, he talked about appointing, among others, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Oprah Winfrey or himself.

She said she never saw him formulate a clear plan to sell the seat.
Chiakulas also described tension in the deliberation room, as other jurors tried to pressure her into voting guilty on the conspiracy charge. She also said that some of the women jurors felt that some male jurors did not respect their opinions:
Other jurors have acknowledged pressuring Chiakulas to change her vote on the Senate seat, with one man going so far as to switch chairs so he could "look her in the eyes" during deliberations. She was yelled at and told she wasn't being logical, jurors said.

One person asked the judge for a copy of the juror's oath, implying that Chiakulas wasn't fulfilling her obligation. Chiakulas and at least two other female jurors said they felt belittled and questioned whether their gender had something to do with their treatment.
Chiakulas did not have kind words for Blagojevich, whom she described as "narcissistic" and as an "idiot." Ultimately, she voted her conscience after agonizing over the evidence for weeks. The media should salute Chiakulas for standing her ground and for doing precisely what jurors are supposed to do.


AngelaD said...

I'm no fan of Blago's but good for her! It's outrageous that some of the other jurors were harrassing her like that. And it does sound like there were gender issues going on. I'm glad she stood her ground.

AST said...

Agreed. When people get convicted because they're repellent individuals, rather than because they actually committed the charged crimes, nobody wins. I suspect Mr. Blagojevich got a fairer judgment than he would have given someone else.

Kevin said...

Given the pre-trial publicity and overall view that Chicago politicians are corrupt, most of the jurors were probably ready to convict before the trial started. Those who had an open mind were probably dazzled by the importance of the case and the number of impressive witnesses called by the prosecution. In my opinion, Blago is a flamboyant knucklehead, probably no more corrupt than any other politician. Therefore, I agree with this hold-outs refusal to convict him on the vast majority of counts.

Kevin Mahoney

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Thanks for the comments!

Kevin: nice webpage.

Hippi Chicki Niki said...

I agree with all the comments above. Blogojevich is quite a repellent individual and it astounds me that he was ever elected with that personality. As cringe-worthy as all of the public appearances he's made post scandal (and probably all of the private ones that were in evidence) are, I find Ms. Chiakulas's position on this quite admirable. She seems to be the one that understood and carried out her duty as a juror in the way the law intends, free of bias towards or against the individual. This whole thing is a bit reminiscent of the movie "Twelve Angry Men" isn't it?

Thanks so much for pointing this one out. I am happy now to have a look at her point of view. I think I'm adding Joann Chiakulas to my list of heroes of 2010 right after Shirley Sherrod!

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