UPDATED 12/07/11 11:33 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — For the first time since he was arrested three years ago, deposed Gov. Rod Blagojevich was thoroughly apologetic and admitted to making “terrible mistakes,” as pleaded for mercy before his sentencing Wednesday.
“I’m here convicted of crimes. The jury decided that I was guilty, and I am accepting of it, and I acknowledge it, and I am unbelievably sorry for it,” he said.
He admitted that he had made “terrible mistakes,” and said he wanted to “apologize to the people of the State of Illinois.”
But he still seemed to claim ignorance about the fact that his actions were illegal, saying, “I never set out to break the law; I never set out to cross lines.”
“I thought they were permissible and I was mistaken and the jury convicted me and they convicted me because those were my actions,” he said.
He also apologized for “fighting this case in the media” and “challenging the prosecutors in public.”
Blagojevich also talked about his daughters, Amy and Annie, and how his ordeal has affected them.
One of the hardest tasks, Blagojevich said, was to talk with the girls about “how we as a family would go forward” after the jury found him guilty on 18 counts.
“Both of my children were of course upset. Our younger daughter Annie, who’s 8, was crying,” he said.
He said daughter Annie, 15, didn’t want Blagojevich to apologize and asked him to go outside and tell the media the verdict was wrong.
But that was not an option, Blagojevich said.
“The fight was over, that it was time to accept this and that I needed to accept this,” he said. “The jury had decided the decision. They had decided it, and they had decided that I committed crimes.”
He said if he hadn’t gone into politics and if he’d “been different,” the chain of events that led to his conviction wouldn’t have happened. But now it’s too late.
“My life is ruined, at least now, my life is in ruins. My political career is over. I can’t be a lawyer anymore. We can’t afford the home that we live in; we’re trying to sell it,” he said.
Blagojevich conceded he had brought his problems on himself.
“I have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity and actions and words and things that I thought I could do,” he said. “I realize I was mistaken. I realize that the things I thought were permissible, the jury made it abundantly clear that they were not.”
“I accept the people’s verdict, judge,” he continued. “They found me guilty and all I can say is I never wanted to hurt anyone, most of all Children’s Memorial Hospital.”
When the emotional Blagojevich finished, he came right to his wife, Patti, and kissed her on the forehead.
Earlier when court began, federal prosecutors began their argument for a tough sentence for Blagojevich by countering the defense’s claims that Blagojevich’s crimes did not cause any real harm and that he did not profit from those crimes.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Reid Schar argued that Blagojevich held up additional state funding for pediatric hospitals while he was seeking a campaign contribution from the head of Children’s Memorial Hospital.
“The defendant in this case held up funding to every children’s hospital in this state for 30 days … that was a very real harm,” Schar said. He also noted that Blagojevich only released the funding for the hospitals after his arrest.
Schar also pointed to Blagojevich’s conviction for trying to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.
“They argue no harm and yet instead of choosing a United States Senator on the merits of each candidate,” Schar said Blagojevich was only interested in how candidates for the seat “could benefit him.”
“They completely ignore the fact that the defendant’s criminal activity corrupted the decision making process of the state of Illinois,” Schar added. “His criminal activity, without doubt, has further eroded the public’s trust in government and in government officials.”
Schar also attacked the defense’s contention that Blagojevich did not perjure himself when he testified at the second trial.
“He lied repeatedly, concretely … and he lied on every episode in which he was questioned,” Schar said.
Pointing specifically to Blagojevich’s testimony about the Senate seat allegations, Schar said the evidence clearly showed the former governor lied when he said his Senate seat decision was not tied to the possibility of being appointed to a Cabinet post or running a multi-million dollar non-profit.
“He is incredibly manipulative and he knows how to be. To his credit, he’s clever about it,” Schar said. “He picks out one person or a group of 12 sitting in a jury box … and he says what he thinks they want to hear.”
Schar noted that one of the jurors at the second trial was originally from Boston, another was a librarian and another worked at a Greek restaurant and Blagojevich tried to appeal to each juror in his testimony.
“Out of nowhere, we heard about how he loved the city of Boston,” Schar said. He also noted that Blagojevich talked about his own library at home and about stopping at a Greek restaurant for coffee.
“He had it all set out because he had an audience he wanted to get to and he wanted to manipulate that audience to help himself,” Schar said.
Schar wrapped up his brief argument by noting that Blagojevich committed several corrupt acts, even though his predecessor as governor, George Ryan, had been charged and convicted for corruption himself.
“He committed his crimes on the heels of the conviction of another governor, knowing full well … the damage Ryan’s rimes had done,” Schar said.
“The defendant was corrupt. He was corrupt the day he took the oath of office. He was corrupt until the day he was arrested,” he added. “He lied to federal agents in an attempt to hide his corruption and continue his corrupt ways.
Even though defense attorneys repeatedly said on the first day of the sentencing hearing that they acknowledge Blagojevich has committed crimes, Schar said Blagojevicch has never shown any remorse or accepted any personal responsibility for his actions. Rather, Schar argued, the only acceptance the defense appears to have shown is that a jury found him guilty.
“When the defendant was finally caught, his reaction … was not to show any remorse … or accept any responsibility for his own actions,” Schar said. “I mean a true acceptance that he committed these crimes and that he understood they were wrong,”
Schar also said that Blagojevich repeatedly has tried “to blame anyone and everyone but himself.”
The prosecution said Zagel should send a message that “The people have had enough. They have had enough of this defendant and they have had enough of those who are corrupt like him.”
“Tell this defendant and others that the consequences for corruption are higher now than they have ever been before,” Schar added. “You judge and you alone are the only one who could send that message. A sentence of 15 to 20 years is appropriate in this case.”
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports
Todd Feurer, CBS 2 Web Producer