CHICAGO - Rod Blagojevich's attorneys admitted Tuesday for the first time that the former Illinois governor was guilty of corruption, saying at his sentencing hearing that he accepted the verdicts against him but that the prison term requested by prosecutors was too harsh.
Those comments are in stark contrast to Blagojevich's public statements, in which he adamantly maintained his innocence through two trials since his arrest three years ago.
Attorney Sheldon Sorosky told Judge James Zagel that it was illegal for Blagojevich to ask for a job for himself in exchange for his naming of a replacement for President Obama in the U.S. Senate. "There's no doubt this is a crime to do this in relation to the Senate seat. We accept that," Sorosky said. "I am just saying that does not call for a 15- to 20-year jail" term.
Sorosky made the same argument when he talked about the other crimes for which the former governor was convicted - shaking down a racetrack executive and a hospital executive, as well as lying to the FBI. But he said none of Blagojevich's actions merited the sentence recommended by prosecutors.
Blagojevich, who sat at a defense table in a dark pinstripe suit, was expected to address Zagel on Wednesday, the second day of the hearing. Legal experts have said he needs to display some remorse.
Blagojevich's well-known jocular persona was not on display Tuesday. Instead, he was somber and ill-at-ease. But as defense attorney Aaron Goldstein began reading a letter to the judge from his older daughter, 15-year-old Amy, the former governor suddenly seemed to fight to maintain his composer.
Zagel also seemed more engaged in what Goldstein was saying as he described Blagojevich, the father. Blagojevich's wife, Patti, began sobbing, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Zagel, who has said he will pronounce a sentence Wednesday, said earlier that Blagojevich was clearly the ringleader of the schemes for which he was convicted, and lied about his actions on the witness stand.
In comments that could signal a lengthy prison sentence, Zagel made it clear that he did not believe a suggestion made by defense attorneys that Blagojevich was duped by aides and advisers. "There is no question from his tone of voice that he was demanding," Zagel said of Blagojevich's comments on phone conversations secretly recorded by the FBI. "His role as leader is clearly shown by his actions."
And in a harsh assessment of Blagojevich's performance on the witness stand, Zagel said the former governor was lying when he testified that he planned to appoint the state's attorney general to Obama's seat in a legal political deal. "I think this is untrue," Zagel said. "I thought it was untrue when he said it, and I think it is still untrue."
Goldstein pleaded with the judge not to impose a lengthy prison sentence - not for his sake, but for his family. In an emotional few minutes before proceedings ended for the day, Goldstein said locking Blagojevich up for a long time would devastate his family.
Goldstein read a letter from Blagojevich's daughter Amy, who wrote that she needs her father for all the things that will happen in her life - graduation from high school, applying to college, and when her heart gets broken.