RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - Jury deliberations began on Tuesday in the federal corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife, who are charged with accepting sweetheart loans and lavish gifts from a businessman.
The jury of seven men and five women began deciding the fate of McDonnell and Virginia’s former first lady, Maureen McDonnell, both 60, after receiving instructions from U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer.
McDonnell and his wife face a 14-count indictment charging they accepted $177,000 in loans and gifts from dietary supplement entrepreneur Jonnie Williams Sr. in exchange for using the governor’s office to promote Williams’ company and its main product, the anti-inflammatory Anatabloc.
If convicted on all charges, the McDonnells could be sentenced to 20 years in prison and be ordered to pay hefty fines.
Spencer told jurors that those involved in a conspiracy did not have to be successful for the conspiracy to have occurred.
He also instructed them that Maureen McDonnell, even though a private citizen in her role as first lady, could still be convicted of acting in a conspiracy to corrupt her husband’s office.
Jurors deliberated for about 5-1/2 hours on Tuesday without reaching a verdict before the judge dismissed them for the day. The panel was to resume deliberations on Wednesday morning.
Prosecutors have argued that McDonnell, a Republican whose term ended in January, knowingly took loans and gifts from Williams but was trying to distance himself by blaming his wife.
Prosecutors contended that both McDonnells repeatedly had worked on Williams’ behalf, staging a launch of Anatabloc at the governor’s mansion and offering personal testimonials to high-ranking state employees about its effectiveness.
But defense attorneys said the prosecution must show that Williams received a significant benefit from his gifts and loans.
They also argued that the couple’s 38-year marriage was so frayed that the McDonnells could not have conspired with Williams. The defendants have separate legal teams, and the former governor has moved out of the family home.
Lawyers for the couple depicted Williams, the former chief executive of Star Scientific Inc, as a smooth-talking salesman who duped the former first lady. Witnesses described her as volatile, ill at ease in the governor’s mansion and perhaps mentally disturbed.
Robert McDonnell testified that he had only performed routine courtesies for Williams, as he would for any other businessman in his state.
Reporting by Gary Robertson; Editing by Ian Simpson, Bill Trott and Eric Beech