Appeals court hears arguments in ex-Gov. McDonnell’s case

RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WAVY) — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s lawyers got a half-hour to urge a federal appeals court to overturn his public corruption convictions.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Tuesday morning in Richmond.

“We are very pleased with how the argument came out,” said McDonnell’s defense attorney Noel Francisco. “I think the court understands the issues, and we’re quite confident that … the court is going to reach the right conclusion.”

Video: McDonnell discusses appeal hearing

The arguments focused on two major issues — whether McDonnell was convicted based on an overly broad definition of what constitutes an “official act” and whether jurors were properly questioned about whether they were influenced by news reports about the case.

McDonnell’s defense argued the jury instructions on definition of “official acts” was too broad. They argued the former governor “never crossed the line.”

“The jury instructions the judge gave were wrong,” Francisco said. “The instructions that we gave were right. Either one of those reasons is enough to reverse the decision, his conviction, and we are confident that is what is going to happen.”

Special Coverage: McDonnell Trial

During jury selection for the trial, District Court Judge James Spencer never asked this question: “have you formed an opinion on innocence or guilt, based on pre-trial publicity.” Instead, all 150 potential jurors were asked to stand, and Judge Spencer said, “if you can make a fair and impartial decision, sit down.”

McDonnell Attorney Hank Asbill says that is an issue at the heart of the McDonnell appeal.

“You have to ask jurors what they think. You have to explore that with them. You need to do it individually, without other jurors … without pressure to try and to suggest they might not be fair and impartial … of course they feel pressure to claim they are fair and impartial, when in fact they might not be.”

On this part of the appeal, Appeals Judge Diana Gribbon Motz said this Tuesday to U.S. Attorney Richard Cooke, “This is not an earth shattering observation. A lot of quid is proved but the quo is much thinner.”

Longtime political observer Bob Holsworth, who was in court, said the prosecution’s main argument was that McDonnell was one man and could not help Jonnie Williams alone.

The judges can now either reverse the conviction and direct an acquittal or reverse the conviction and direct a new trial. If they don’t reverse the conviction, then the conviction stands. The court usually takes a few weeks to decide.

McDonnell said he is putting trust in the justice system and the Lord that his convictions will be overturned.

“There is nothing that has been done here that’s violated the law,” said McDonnell. “I know that in my heart and in my soul.”

Last September, McDonnell was found guilty of 11 counts of corruption. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were convicted of taking more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from a wealthy businessman in exchange for promoting his company’s dietary supplements. The former governor was sentenced to two years in prison, his wife to one year and one day. They’re free on bond while they pursue separate appeals.


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