A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] on Thursday granted federal prosecutors' motion to dismiss three charges against former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich [JURIST news archive] in an apparent effort to simply their case before the April 20 retrial. Judge James Zagel agreed to dismiss [Chicago Tribune report] charges of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and one count of wire fraud, each carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, but Blagojevich will still face 20 other charges, including attempting to sell the Senate seat vacated by US President Barack Obama, making appointments based on anticipated campaign contributions and taking kickbacks from a number of companies. At the hearing, prosecutors alluded to the fact that dropping some of the more complicated charges will simplify their case and give them a better chance of obtaining convictions on the remaining charges. In a statement, Blagojevich maintained his innocence [press release]:
Today's developments in court are three steps in the right direction in what has been along and arduous journey for my wife, for my children and for me. I will continue to fight to clear my name and prove to the people of Illinois that I didn't let them down.Blagojevich was found guilty [JURIST report] last year of making false statements to the FBI, but the jury remained deadlocked on the 23 additional charges.
In Blagojevich's first trial, the jury deliberated for 14 days after the 11-week trial but was unable to reach a consensus on all but one of the charges. According to reports, there was a lone holdout [Chicago Tribune report] on the convictions regarding the sale of Obama's Senate seat. The female juror allegedly stated that due to the lack of a "smoking gun" she was unable to convict Blagojevich of the crimes. Last September, lawyers for Blagojevich asked the judge to throw out the sole conviction [JURIST report], stating that the government failed to meet its required burden of proof and that cross-examinations by the defense were plagued by "obstructionist" objections [Chicago Tribune report], which the court continuously sustained. In January 2009, the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously [JURIST report] to convict Blagojevich of abuse of power and remove him from office. Blagojevich and his former chief of staff John Harris were initially arrested [JURIST report] in December 2008.