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Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has asked a judge to nullify the lone conviction in his mostly deadlocked corruption trial, saying the jury's decision was underpinned by errors at trial and misconduct by prosecutors.
Trial Judge James Zagel should override jurors' verdict and acquit Blagojevich of lying to the FBI or set it aside and try him again on that charge, defense attorneys said in a motion filed at the U.S. District Court in Chicago.
"The fact is that the government knew -- and knows -- that Blagojevich was not lying to the FBI," says the motion, filed late Monday. "The conviction in this case is not legally sound."
At the end of a two-and-a-half month trial, jurors convicted the impeached governor on just one of 24 counts against him. Prosecutors told the judge they will try Blagojevich again on the deadlocked charges, a retrial that is expected to start in January.
Among the charges jurors couldn't agree on was that Blagojevich attempted to sell or trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat President Barack Obama was vacating in exchange for a lucrative job or campaign donation.
The charge of lying to the FBI was considered the least serious, carrying a prison sentence of up to five years. Other charges, including racketeering, could lead to a 20-year prison term. Blagojevich, 53, has denied any wrongdoing.
His attorneys alluded to their client's financial straits, saying in the filing that a legal fund he drew on during his trial has run dry. One consequence, they claim, is that he can't even foot the bill to secure all official trial transcripts -- rendering defense lawyers' work more difficult.
"As a result, counsel submits the instant motion without the benefit of reviewing all of the official transcripts," the filing says.
Prosecutors accused Blagojevich of lying to federal agents during a March 2005 interview in two separate statements -- when he said he did not "track" campaign contributions and when he asserted he kept a "firewall" between political campaigns and government work.
The filing argues that jurors should have been told they had to agree on both before they could convict on the single count of lying. It also says the meaning of the word 'track,' in the context of the charge, was unclear.
The filing also questions why prosecutors waited years before charging Blagojevich with lying, suggesting they employed the charge as a way to enter evidence at trial that otherwise wouldn't have been allowed.
"The government used it as a 'kitchen-sink' charge to secure a conviction at any cost," it says.
After the trial, Blagojevich's attorneys said they intended to appeal. The latest filing could lay the groundwork for an appeal to a higher court.
In their filing, the defense revives broader accusations that the government railroaded Blagojevich. It says more than 170 FBI agents fanned out when the then-governor was arrested on Dec. 9, 2008, knocking on doors and pressing witnesses for incriminating statements.
"The very manner in which prosecutors brought this case to trial before the court was dishonest, improper and constituted judge-shopping (trying to find a favorable court for prosecution)," the filing said. "It kick-started the prosecutors' win-at-any-cost tactics."
It also takes prosecutors and Zagel himself to task for so frequently objecting as defense attorneys cross-examined witnesses. It said there were more than 30 interruptions of lawyer Sam Adam Jr. during his fiery, sometimes theatrical closing argument.
"The court's sanctioning of this obstructionist tactic prejudiced Blagojevich greatly," the filing said.