Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich sits with his lawyers during his sentencing hearing at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Tuesday.  (Cheryl A. Cook, for the Chicago Tribune)

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich sits with his lawyers during his sentencing hearing at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Tuesday. ((Cheryl A. Cook, for the Chicago Tribune))

Rod Blagojevich's sentencing hearing has ended for the day, with the defense emphasizing the damage a long prison sentence would have on Blagojevich’s family.

Lawyer Aaron Goldstein also read a letter read to the court from Blagojevich’s wife, Patti.
“Your honor, I ask you humbly with the life of my husband and the childhood of my daughters in your hands, be merciful,” she wrote to U.S. District Judge James Zagel.

Her husband’s worst fear was that he would not be able to see his daughters grow up, Goldstein said, prompting both Rod and Patti Blagojevich to tear up as they listened in the courtroom.

Goldstein also read messages written by Blagojevich to his now-teenage daughter, Amy, in 2005 when she went away on a class trip. The lawyer repeated the defense assertion that the Blagojevich girls would be devastated by having their father go to prison for more than a decade.

Goldstein then read an excerpt from Amy Blagojevich’s letter to the judge. One of the few good things about her father’s troubles was that he has been home a lot, she wrote.

“He’s been here to help me with my homework,” she wrote. “He’s been here to teach me life lessons.”

She asked the court for mercy for her dad. A long sentence would be too much for her, she said.

“It’s too drastic a change. I need my father,” she wrote. “I need him there for my high school graduation. I’ll need him there if I don’t get into college.

“I’ll need him when my heart gets broken.”

The hearing is set to resume at 10 a.m. Wednesday with prosecutors addressing the judge. Then Blagojevich would make his statement to Zagel.

Before the hearing ended,  Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky continued to tell Zagel he did not believe anything Blagojevich did warranted 15 to 20 years in prison.

Such a penalty would be too harsh even for the central charge that Blagojevich sought campaign donations from supporters of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in exchange for appointing him to the vacant Senate seat, Sorosky said.

The most damning statement Blagojevich made on undercover recordings was “if, in fact, this is possible, then some of this stuff has to start happening now,” meaning the campaign contributions, Sorosky said.

“He’s asking for a contribution here. And that’s wrong and he’s guilty, but I don’t know that that’s anywhere near selling a Senate seat for $1.5 million” Sorosky said. “And once again this does not call for a sentence of 15 years in jail.”

The defense also played snippets from a pair of wiretapped calls that Goldstein said he hoped would shed light on what happened from Blagojevich’s perspective.

In the first call, adviser Doug Scofield told Blagojevich to leverage his power over the U.S. Senate appointment, saying it was “a good place to be” to have Barack Obama interested in who Blagojevich picked as senator.

“It was repeated over and over,” Goldstein said. “From Mr. Blagojevich’s perspective, it’s every single person cheering this on.”

Another call showed he was trying to do what was best for Illinois, cutting a political deal with the Madigans to get a package of proposals through the legislature, Goldstein said. He wanted a capital bill passed to create jobs, expand health care and block tax increases, Blagojevich could be heard to say on one recording played by the defense.