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Blagojevich is convicted of corruption

Rod R. Blagojevich, who won two terms as Illinois governor before scandal made him a national punch line, was convicted Monday of a wide range of corruption charges, including trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after he was elected president.

The verdict, coming after his first trial ended last year with the jury deadlocked on most charges, was a bitter defeat for Blagojevich, who spent 2 1/2 years professing his innocence on reality television shows and later on the witness stand. His defense team insisted that hours of FBI wiretap recordings were just the ramblings of a politician who liked to think out loud.

The jury voted to convict on 17 of 20 counts after deliberating for nine days.

When sentenced later this year, Blagojevich is virtually certain to get a significant prison term that experts said could be 10 to 15 years. He also could face up to five additional years in prison for his previous conviction of lying to the FBI.

Blagojevich becomes the second straight Illinois governor convicted of corruption. His predecessor, George H. Ryan, is now serving 6 1/2 years in federal prison.

After hearing the verdict, Blagojevich turned to defense attorney Sheldon M. Sorosky and asked "What happened?" His wife, Patti, slumped against her brother, then rushed into her husband's arms.

The verdict capped a long-running spectacle in which Blagojevich became famous for blurting on a recorded phone call that his ability to appoint Obama's successor to the Senate was "[expletive] golden" and that he wouldn't let it go "for [expletive] nothing."

The Democrat, 54, who has been free on bond since shortly after his arrest, spoke only briefly with reporters as he left the courthouse, saying he was disappointed and stunned by the verdict.

"Well, among the many lessons I've learned from this whole experience is to try to speak a little bit less, so I'm going to keep my remarks kind of short," Blagojevich said, adding that the couple wanted "to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them and then try to sort things out." His two daughters are 8 and 14.

The case exploded into scandal when Blagojevich was awakened by federal agents Dec. 9, 2008, at his Chicago home and was led away in handcuffs.

Blagojevich was swiftly impeached and removed from office.

The verdict provided affirmation to U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, one of the nation's most prominent prosecutors, who, after the governor's arrest, had condemned Blagojevich's dealings as a "political corruption crime spree."

The key question for the jury was whether to accept the defense suggestion that Blagojevich's activities amounted to "the kind of political wheeling and dealing that is common in Illinois and around the country."

"That," said Fitzgerald, his voice rising, "couldn't be any further from the truth. Selling a Senate seat, shaking down a children's hospital and squeezing a person to give money before you sign a bill that benefits them is not a gray area. It's a crime."

Blagojevich was acquitted of soliciting bribes in the alleged shakedown of a road-building executive. The jury deadlocked on two charges of attempted extortion related to that executive and funding for a school.

Jurors said the evidence that Blagojevich tried to secure a high-paying, high-powered position in exchange for the appointment of Obama's successor in the Senate was the clearest in the case.

"There was so much more evidence to go on," said Juror No. 140. Jury members said they listened and relistened to recordings of Blagojevich's phone conversations with aides.

Jurors acknowledged finding the former governor likable.

"He was personable," Juror No. 103 said. "It made it hard to separate what we actively had to do as jurors."

Still, Juror No. 140 said she found Blagojevich's testimony at times "manipulative."

The quiet Blagojevich who left the courthouse Monday was a sharp contrast with the combative politician who emerged after his arrest. Back then, he called federal prosecutors "cowards and liars" and challenged Fitzgerald to face him in court if he was "man enough."