Jurors’ decision in McDonnells’ trial based on ‘overwhelming’ evidence

The Washington Post’s Rosalind Helderman and Matt Zapotosky break down the trial of former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell and his wife. (Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

Robin Trujillo said she and fellow jurors grew somber Thursday as they finished their work and glanced up at a piece of paper hanging on the wall of the deliberation room that held the fate of former governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife.

The 12-member panel had argued over some charges in more than 17 hours of deliberations, but next to nearly every charge of corruption they had written “guilty” — a sentiment most shared from the beginning, Trujillo said.

Trujillo said her stomach churned and a fellow juror trembled as they prepared to enter the courtroom and deliver a decision she called the most difficult of her life. She said she knew they might be putting a man in prison, but she had no regrets.

“I felt physically ill knowing I was going to have to go out there and face the McDonnells,” Trujillo said. “We were comfortable with what we did, but we are still human beings.”

Three jurors interviewed said their decision did not turn on any one piece of evidence or the testimony of any one of the 67 witnesses they heard, but the accumulated weight of evidence mounted by prosecutors day after day.

“The evidence was overwhelming and staring us in our face,” Trujillo said.

A second juror, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, put it another way.

“It was a tough decision, but it was not a hard decision,” the woman said. “It was a tough decision to make because of the governor’s 20-plus years of service to the country and to the Commonwealth. It was hard and tough to see his family go through that. But when it came down to brass tacks, we knew the decision we had to make.”

Kathleen Carmody, a third juror, said members of the panel examined each gift and said to themselves: “Would the McDonnells have received these gifts if Bob McDonnell weren’t governor.”

Carmody said the “facts speak for themselves.”

Trujillo also said the central theme of the defense did not hold water. Defense attorneys argued that Robert and Maureen McDonnell’s marriage was so broken they could not have conspired to use the governor’s office to push the products of businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for gifts.

But Trujillo said that seemed implausible since the McDonnells were living together until a week before the trial and prosecutors produced numerous e-mails and other correspondence showing the pair had discussions about finances and regularly coordinated other plans.

Verdicts of individual counts from the McDonnell trial.

Trujillo said the details of the McDonnells’ crumbling marriage that were aired in court were painful to hear, but did little to affect her decision. Still, she and fellow jurors said they felt sympathy for the former governor.

“He is probably a good person, but sometimes good people make bad decisions,” Trujillo said.

After beginning deliberations Tuesday, Trujillo and the juror who requested anonymity said the group took a preliminary vote to take the panel’s temperature. The second juror said there were no strong camps advocating guilt or innocence.

Then, Trujillo said, the jury began methodically going through each of the 14 counts to see if evidence convicted the McDonnells. The first count — conspiracy to sell the governor’s office — was the biggest and most important, but ultimately sparked little disagreement.

“We didn’t have any problems on count one,” Trujillo said. “Once we found that, it was like a domino effect.”

Trujillo said they took few breaks over the next three days as they weighed e-mails, texts and testimony. One of the hardest moments came as the seven men and five women faced the McDonnells in the courtroom after the verdict was reached.

As each of the guilty charges was read, Trujillo said she watched Maureen McDonnell break down in tears and the former governor sink lower in his chair. Finally, she said, he held his head in his hands, sobbing.

Trujillo was spent, too, after five weeks of testimony in the nationally watched trial. She said she began to cry right along with them for the tragedy she had witnessed.

“I’m not a very political person . . . but it made me look at the whole political system differently,” Trujillo said. “The fact that someone who was respected and held up could be guilty of this and kept the secret for so long, it made me wonder, ‘Do we have to look at all our government officials this way?’ ”

Carmody, a project manager for the Bethesda, Md.-based Association for Molecular Pathology, said she too cried once she got into her car and drove home.

“You can’t help but feel compassion and sympathy for the family. No one won in this case.”

Tina Griego, Jenna Portnoy, Julie Zauzmer, Magda Jean-Louis and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of slain federal intern Chandra Levy.
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