Jurors cautious with each count

A 'complicated' task of deliberating on Rezko's 24 counts

 
 
  • Mona Lisa Mauricette, center, a juror in the Antoin

    Mona Lisa Mauricette, center, a juror in the Antoin "Tony" Rezko corruption trial, speaks to the media after the verdict at the Dirksen Federal Building on Wednesday. On left is juror, Darniece McCain and right, is juror Susan Lopez. Associated Press

Published: 6/4/2008 11:22 PM | Updated: 6/4/2008 11:37 PM

Corruption may seem straightforward.

You have a guy who's got a connection to make some easy money off government.

But in the long trial of Antoin "Tony" Rezko, jurors faced a web of conspirators talking about pulling strings in the White House and appointments on obscure state panels that decide where to build hospitals or invest teacher pensions.

Then there is the letter of the law. What is wire fraud anyway?

"We had to piece the puzzle together," said juror Susan Lopez, a school administrator in Yorkville, in explaining the 11 days of deliberations over three weeks.

The panel of 10 women and two men presented themselves Monday as comrades in the pursuit of justice, deaf to the big names dropped by witnesses: Karl Rove, Sen. Barack Obama and Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

They were black, white, old and young. They came from varying fields, including education, health care, insurance and automotive. One was a fan of daytime courtroom shows. One is working on her doctorate.

In the deliberation room on the 12th floor of Chicago's towering federal building, jurors wrote out legal definitions on an easel and parsed through wiretapped phone conversations on a computer.

"The task before us was a difficult and challenging one," said Lopez, reading a statement from the jury during a brief news conference after the landmark verdict.

Each juror took "caution and great care" in deliberating on each count, she said.

Eight jurors chose to answer questions about the process in a news conference after the verdicts. The other four left, refusing to talk.

The jury found Rezko guilty on 16 counts, but not guilty on the eight others, including one related to the producer of "Million Dollar Baby" accusing the defendant of strong-arming him for a $1.5 million check to Blagojevich's campaign.

On the stand, producer Tom Rosenberg admitted he was never directly told he had to give the money in exchange for teacher pension investments. The alleged deal never materialized. Defense attorneys harped on the discrepancy in his closing arguments.

Some of the 24 counts were easy for the jury to come to agreement on.

Juror Andrea Coleman said that was the case on the counts related to Rezko's attempt to extort bribes from a hospital company seeking permission to build facilities in the suburbs.

But others were more difficult.

Juror Mona Lisa Mauricette said the 13th count was tough because it wasn't immediately clear to some that Rezko's push to have someone else call his business partner to further extortion constituted "wire fraud."

That division led the jury to send a note to the judge Monday saying they couldn't reach a verdict on one count. U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve told them to continue deliberating.

The final verdict on that count was "guilty."

The prosecution's case against Rezko was clearly complicated by its reliance on star witness Stuart Levine, who pled guilty to planning and executing the scheme. He will likely receive a lighter sentence in exchange for his cooperation.

Duffy attacked Levine on the stand, pointing out his years of heavy drug abuse and all-night, all-male parties fueled by Ecstasy, cocaine and crystal meth.

Mauricette said Levine's testimony was not credible by itself, but in the context of the other evidence, it played a role in their guilty verdicts.

"We found consistency in the testimony and credibility when it was all put together," she said.

Aside from questionable testimony, jurors also had to face their own biases.

When asked if the constant appearance of Blagojevich's name influenced their decision, many of the jurors said "No." When asked if Obama's connection -- some extorted funds were to go to his campaign -- played a role, several jurors aggressively shook their heads and said "No" again.

"As a jury, we tried to just focus on the Rezko trial," said Mauricette.

When asked by a reporter if they were aware of the depth of corruption in Illinois politics before the trial, most laughed and said "no comment."

But some jurors were from the same fields exploited by Rezko's greed. As a whole, Lopez said, the jury thought hard about the direct victims.

"We were here to represent the people who didn't have a voice and those were the teachers ... and the health care system," she said.

While jurors were solemn during their news conference and modest about the toll it took on them, it was a clear sign of relief that the ordeal was over when one of them let out a whoop of joy as they returned to Judge Amy St. Eve's chambers to visit with her after the news conference was over.