Blagojevich trial holdout juror says she followed her conscience in voting against conviction

The juror who was the lone holdout on some counts at former Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich's political corruption trial has said she had a responsibility to follow her conscience and that she stands by her vote.

In her first media interview since the trial ended, JoAnn Chiakulas told the Chicago Tribune that she found Blagojevich's recorded statements about allegedly selling Barack Obama's old senate seat so disorganized and scattered that his actions did not amount to a criminal conspiracy.

"I could never live with myself if I went along with the rest of the jury," Chiakulas told the Tribune.

The jury last week deadlocked on 23 of 24 counts against Blagojevich and convicted him of lying to the FBI. On Thursday, Judge James Zagel said Blagojevich's retrial would start the week of Jan. 4. Prosecutors have dropped charges against the former governor's brother, Robert Blagojevich.

At the first trial, jurors deliberated for 14 days before the judge declared a mistrial on those 23 charges.

Rod Blagojevich is accused of attempting to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat, but jurors said they deadlocked 11-1 on the charges regarding that.

Since the verdict, Chiakulas, 67, had refused to respond to an onslaught of media requests for an interview. On Thursday, a woman at her apartment in the Chicago suburb of Willowbrook refused to open the door when an Associated Press reporter knocked.

The Tribune said its interview with her was arranged with the help of a freelance journalist who works for the newspaper and knows the Chiakulas family.

Chiakulas is retired and a grandmother. She is a former employee of the state Department of Public Health, where she ran a minority affairs program, and the Chicago Urban League, where she oversaw a youth counseling program.

In the Tribune interview, Chiakulas said she had no prior bias toward Blagojevich, and had ignored his many media appearances, which she called "his shenanigans."

Chiakulas said she did not believe Blagojevich committed a crime with regards to Obama's vacated senate seat. But, in voting him not guilty, Chiakulas stressed that she did not find him innocent.

"I thought he was narcissistic," she told the Tribune. "I thought he was all over the place. I thought he was just rambling."

Chiakulas said she also became concerned because some key witnesses against Blagojevich had cut deals with prosecutors before testifying.

"Some people in (the jury room) only saw black and white," Chiakulas said. "I think I saw, in the transcripts and in the testimony, shades of gray. To me, that means reasonable doubt."

She acknowledged tensions in the jury room as she held her ground. Other jurors said that she took copious notes and that they had no reason to believe she wasn't deliberating in good faith.

Being the holdout caused her a great deal of stress, Chiakulas said, describing how she suffered headaches and stomach pains.

"I can't explain how badly I felt," she said. "I didn't sleep at night. I thought about it on the train. I wanted to make sure my reasonable doubt was reasonable."


Information from: Chicago Tribune,

Source: AP News

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