Attorneys: McDonnell marriage was 'broken down'

RICHMOND, Va. — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife's marriage was broken, and Maureen McDonnell developed a crush on a businessman who wanted favors from the governor, lawyers for Virginia's former first lady said Tuesday in the couple's federal corruption trial.

Meanwhile prosecutors painted the McDonnells as a broke, greedy couple who traded favors in exchange for lavish gifts from Jonnie Williams, then chief executive of Star Scientific.

"Unlike the other man in her life, Jonnie paid attention to her," said Bill Burck, Maureen McDonnell's lawyer.

LIVE UPDATES: U.S. vs. Bob & Maureen McDonnell trial

Burck spent his opening statement tearing down Williams, saying his version of the events that transpired between him and the McDonnells changed nine times.

The McDonnells, married 38 years, are accused in a 14-count indictment of conspiring to use the governor's position to enrich themselves. Prosecutors say they took $165,000 in loans and gifts from Williams and in return promoted his nutritional supplement Anatabloc.

Williams received immunity from prosecution and will testify against the McDonnells.

The McDonnells are being tried together even though they requested separate court dates and are coming and going to the federal courthouse here separately.

As Maureen McDonnell's lawyers laid out their case for the eight-man, four woman jury Tuesday, the separate courthouse arrivals and departures became more clear: Her lawyer said Williams "filled the void" in Maureen McDonnell's broken marriage and became her "favorite playmate."

They did not imply an affair.

Later Bob McDonnell's lawyer also said the couple's marriage is broken and that his wife hates him.

"The prosecution has a tough case. There's no clear quid pro quo," Latin for something for something, political analyst Bob Holsworth said. "And in some cases, it might look like Jonnie Williams may have gotten strung along."

The indictment indicates that Maureen McDonnell asked Williams for money and expensive items, including a $6,500 Rolex watch for her husband.

MORE: Jury seated in McDonnell corruption trial

Officials worked late Monday to seat a 12-member jury and three alternates to keep what is anticipated to be a five-week trial on schedule.

As the former governor walked through the gauntlet of reporters and photographers he said, "Good morning, good morning, how's everybody doing?" In answer to their questions, he replied, "I have tremendous lawyers, faith in the justice system and in God, and that's comforting," he said.

During Monday's jury selection process, he was seen reading from a prayer book. His legal team surrounded him several yards away from his wife, whose legal team surrounded her.

"Is it OK for a friend to give gifts to politicians? What does that mean for the commonwealth?" are the questions this trial is centered on, said Deidre Condit, head of Virginia Commonwealth University's Public Policy Department in the state's capital city.

Several McDonnell family members are on the prosecution's witness list and so are many former staff of the governor's office. The defense witness list includes former Gov L. Douglas Wilder and current House Speaker William J. Howell, a Republican from Stafford, Va.

Being on a witness list means only that the person could be called to testify. All of the McDonnells' children are listed.

In court on Monday, 142 potential jurors were asked questions including whether anyone in their family works in banking or mortgage lending, whether they work for the state of Virginia and whether they or family members have ever been convicted of a crime. Judge James Spencer questioned each one individually asking them if they could be impartial.

Contributing: Paulina Firozi, USA TODAY. Nick Ochsner also reports for WVEC-TV, Hampton-Norfolk, Va.; Peggy Fox also reports for WUSA-TV, Washington, D.C.


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