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Little Known about Blagojevich Jurors

A pre-algebra teacher, a former Marine and an avid marathon runner are among the 12 jurors who met Thursday for the first full day of deliberations in the corruption trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Little is known about the six men and six women deciding the fate of Blagojevich and his co-defendant brother, aside from hints that emerged during jury selection, because of an unusual decision by the judge: He is withholding their names until after the verdict to prevent the public from trying to contact them and influence their decision.

Jurors asked Judge James B. Zagel on Thursday for a transcript of one of the closing arguments in the case, but he denied the request, saying closing arguments are not evidence.

Some experts believe a verdict won't come for at least several days in the complicated case. Two carts full of evidence were wheeled into the jurors' meeting room when they began deliberations Wednesday, agreeing to meet from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

"Since the trial has gone faster than expected, I don't think they will be in as much of a mindset of, 'let's get out of here,"' said Michael Helfand, a Chicago attorney who followed the trial but has no link to the case.

And while they're deciding, they will be in a cocoon of privacy. They'll get no e-mail messages from "the King of Japan" or expletive-laden voicemail messages on their phones, like the ones Zagel has received. No chance of Facebook postings using their names, either.

The ubiquity of e-mail and social networking and the Internet Age-urge for everyone to express their opinions were among the reasons Zagel cited when he prohibited the release of the 12 primary and five alternate jurors' names until after a verdict.

Withholding juror names is more common in trials involving alleged mobsters or terrorists, for security reasons, and media organizations contested Zagel's ruling. But the judge maintained that the jurors' ability to impartially decide an "inarguably" high-profile case could be impaired by unsolicited interruptions.

There's also the danger someone could alter a juror's ability to think clearly, Zagel said recently. If jurors "picked up a phone and heard a spewing of profanity — that could have a mood-altering impact," he said. In the judge's final ruling, he acknowledged that inappropriate contact of jurors is not a new issue, but said the risk was greater because of the "astounding" pervasiveness of e-mail and social media.

So, unlike in previous trials — such as that of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, Blagojevich's predecessor — most of what's known about the jurors in Blagojevich's case is their occupations and a few details gleaned from the judge's questions during jury selection.

There's an accounting major at Western Illinois University, a retired public health official and a Navy veteran. One man was born in a U.S. internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II, while another is a former Marine who was injured while serving in the Middle East. One woman is passionate about knitting.

Eight jurors are white, three are black and one is Asian-American.

Zagel says he's less worried about "crackpots" than a pervasive belief among Americans that "their opinion somehow counts" on any subject — and that non-crackpots couldn't help trying to persuade jurors with reasoned argument.

He said a bigger risk in the Blagojevich case was not only the trial's high visibility but that so many people felt a personal link to the twice-elected governor — either as one-time constituents or as viewers who watched him as a reality TV contestant or other TV shows.

"We are dealing here with perhaps millions of people who voted for the defendant, who may feel betrayed by the defendant," Zagel said. "This is not ... something that happened to someone else."

The ousted governor, 53, has pleaded not guilty to 24 counts, including trying to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat for a Cabinet post, private job or campaign cash.

His brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54, has also pleaded not guilty to taking part in that alleged scheme.

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