Looking for a verdict: What the jury has to consider in the McDonnell trial

RICHMOND, Va. – The jury working to reach a verdict in the corruption case of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen is entering its third day of deliberations.

And jurors have a lot to wade through.

The jury must weigh weeks of testimony that included personal histories, sordid details of the McDonnells’ marriage and in-depth scrutiny of financial and cellphone records. Plus they were given nuanced, complicated instructions to help guide their decision-making.

Despite the complexity of the case, the verdict form in the case provides blanks for the jury to fill in, with a Mad-Libs-style instruction underneath the blank of “guilty or not guilty.”

Here is a breakdown of what the jury, made up of seven men and five women, has to consider on each count as it tries to reach 26 separate, unanimous verdicts based on the 14 charges in the case:

Count 1

Count 1 charges each of the McDonnells with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and deprive Virginians of their right to honest services, which stretched from around the time Maureen McDonnell went on a New York shopping spree with Jonnie Williams in April 2011 until March 2013, a few weeks after Maureen McDonnell was first interviewed by investigators in the case.

Prosecutor say the McDonnells illegally took at least $177,000 gifts and loans from Williams — not including the ride in the Ferrari or some expensive dinners – – in exchange for providing his company, Star Scientific, contact with government officials, meetings, an event at the Executive Mansion, and other promotional support.

The judge told the jury that in order to convict either of the McDonnells on this count, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that: 

  1. A conspiracy, agreement or understanding was entered into by two or more people
  2. At some point, the defendant knew the purpose of the agreement
  3. With knowledge of the purpose, the defendant deliberately joined the agreement

“A conspiracy is, in a very true sense, a partnership in crime,” Judge James Spencer instructed.

But he added that it “need not be formal, written, or even expressed…in every detail.”

Because Maureen McDonnell was not a public official as first lady, she can only be convicted of conspiring to deprive Virginians of Bob McDonnell’s honest services as governor, not her own. She cannot be convicted of counts 2 through 4, which are for wire fraud, unless she is convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Counts 2-4

Counts 2 through 4 charge the McDonnells with use of wire communications to defraud Virginians of their right to honest services through bribery.

Count 2 involves the May 26, 2011 deposit of a $15,000 check from Jonnie Williams into the bank account of the caterer for Cailin McDonnell’s wedding.

The wedding reception was held at the Executive Mansion and catered by the company of then mansion chef Todd Schneider.

The investigation into Schneider stealing food from the mansion led to the check for the wedding which pointed to a connection to Williams, who was already under federal investigation for securities fraud.

Williams received full immunity in exchange for his testimony at the trial.


Maureen McDonnell, sister of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, arrives at federal court in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. McDonnell testified during the corruption trial of her brother. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Bob McDonnell signed the catering contract for the wedding and had made initial deposits. But both he and Cailin testified that she and her then-fiance planned to pay for the wedding on their own, and saw it as a gift to them rather than to the first couple.

Count 3 focuses on a $50,000 check to the company formed by Bob McDonnell and his sister Maureen to operate rental homes in Virginia Beach. Jonnie Williams sent the check to Maureen (the sister) and her then-husband while the two were on a Caribbean trip. Maureen McDonnell (the wife) texted her sister-in-law not to cash the check until they could talk about it, and later complained she wasn’t getting enough credit for setting up the loan.

The company, MoBo, had annual operating deficits. Maureen McDonnell (the sister) testified that even though she had the cash to cover the losses, it was better to use “other people’s money.”

Count 4 is based on a $20,000 wire transfer from Jonnie Williams to the MoBo account on May 22, 2012.

In order to convict on counts 2-4, the judge told the jury they must find that prosecutors proved four elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. Defendant knowingly participated in a scheme (“plan or course of action”) to deprive the public of their right to honest services
  2. Defendant did so knowingly and with intent to defraud
  3. The scheme involved a material misrepresentation or concealment
  4. In advancing the scheme, something was transmitted in interstate commerce like an email sent or a phone call made.

The judge told the jury that “an unsuccessful scheme or plan is as illegal as a plan,” and that bribery for the purposes of these charges means a “quid pro quo” where a public official sought or demanded something of value corruptly in return for being influenced, “whether or not the public official ultimately performs the official action.”

The judge defined official action as a decision or action on any question before the public official in his official capacity or established as part of the official’s job by settled practice.

“The public official need not have actual or final authority” over the action, Spencer said.

Count 5

In count 5, both McDonnells are charged with a conspiracy to obtain property under color of official right, that lasted from April 2011 to March 2013.

The judge told the jury that the elements prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt are similar to those for count 1:

  1. A conspiracy or understanding was formed
  2. At some point the defendant being considered knew the purpose of the agreement
  3. The defendant joined the agreement knowing its purpose


This photo of Kinloch Golf Club was submitted as evidence by prosecutors. Bob McDonnell is accused of accepting gifts, loans and even golf outings at Kinloch from businessman Jonnie Williams. (Court records)

Counts 6-11

Counts 6-11 charge both Bob and Maureen McDonnell with the counts of obtaining property under color of official right that was not due to Bob McDonnell or his office.

Count 6 is based on the $50,000 check from Williams’ to Maureen McDonnell on May 23, 2011.

Count 7 stems from the $15,000 check for Cailin McDonnell’s wedding catering.

Count 8 is related to a golf outing for Bob McDonnell and family members at the exclusive Kinloch Golf Club on May 29, 2012 just before the wedding. Including green fees, caddies fees and more, the total charges to Williams’ account topped $2,000. Williams was not there.

Count 9 stems from another Kinloch golf outing worth more than $1,400.

Count 10 is based on the March 2012, $50,000 check to MoBo that is also described in count 3.

Count 11 is based on the $20,000 wired to MoBo on May 2012.

In order for the jury to convict Bob McDonnell on counts 6-11, they must find that the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. Bob McDonnell was a public official
  2. Bob McDonnell obtained a thing of value not due to him or his office
  3. He got that thing knowing it was in return for an official act
  4. If it in any way impacted interstate commerce (even if positively, even if only slightly)

“It is not a defense that he would have lawfully performed the official action anyway,” the judge told the jury.

In order to convict Maureen McDonnell on counts 6-11, the jury must find beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. Bob McDonnell is guilty on counts 6-11
  2. Maureen McDonnell knew a crime was being committed or was going to be committed
  3. Maureen McDonnell knowingly did something to aid in the commission of the crime
  4. Maureen McDonnell acted with the intention of causing the crime to be committed

Counts 12 and 13

Counts 12 and 13 are charges of making false statements on bank forms.

Count 12 is the only count in which Bob McDonnell is charged alone. It is based on an October 3, 2012 personal financial statement he filed with Towne Bank to renew financing, which prosecutors say illegally left off the debts McDonnell owed Jonnie Williams. McDonnell’s defense team argued that because it was a personal, not joint, statement the loans did not need to be listed.

Count 13 charges both Bob and Maureen McDonnell with making false statements to Pentagon Federal Credit Union on an application for refinancing filed on February 1, 2013. They signed the application jointly, and Bob McDonnell sent in a revised copy a few weeks later listing the $120,000 in loans from Jonnie Williams – three days after Maureen McDonnell was interviewed by investigators.

The McDonnells argued that they “over disclosed” by listing the loans on the revised application because the loans were not on the final application at closing, later.

Maureen McDonnell’s lawyers also argued that she blindly signed the forms filled out by her husband, so she did not have the necessary criminal intent.

In order to find the McDonnells guilty on the false statements counts, the jury must believe beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. The defendant being considered made a false statement or report
  2. He or she did so to influence he action of a bank or credit union
  3. He or she did so knowingly

Complicating the jury’s task, the judge gave the jury another option as to how they can view the charges and whether either of the McDonnells could be found guilty for certain counts.

On counts 2 through 4, 6 through 11 and 13, there could be a conviction on a theory of aiding and abetting the crime, which would require that the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt that: 

  1. The defendant knew the crime that is charged was being committed
  2. He or she knowingly committed some act to help
  3. He or she acted with intent
  4. Someone committed the actual crime


This May 5, 2011 file photo provided by the office of the Governor of Virginia shows Jonnie Williams left, and Maureen McDonnell, wife of then Gov. Bob McDonnell, during a reception for a NASCAR race at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Va. Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife were indicted Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, on corruption charges after a monthslong federal investigation into gifts the Republican received from Williams. (AP Photo/Office of the Governor of Virginia, Michele White, File)

Count 14

Count 14 is the only count in which Maureen McDonnell is charged alone. She is charged with obstructing a grand jury proceeding for sending a note to Jonnie Williams after she was interviewed by investigators.

The handwritten note, delivered to Williams with a box of designer dresses he bought her, said Maureen McDonnell hoped Williams daughter might be able to use the dresses or that they could be auctioned off for charity.

Her defense team argued the letter is not misleading and was simply a message to Williams.

In order to get a conviction on count 14, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. Maureen McDonnell obstructed or attempted to obstruct an official proceeding
  2. It was done corruptly, that is voluntarily and deliberately
  3. Maureen McDonnell knew of an official proceeding or that her actions would naturally influence one

The defense argued that she believed at the time she sent the letter that there was no ongoing federal grand jury investigating the McDonnells for public corruption.

The judge separately instructed the jury on “good faith,” which means that “if a defendant believed in good faith that he or she was acting properly…there would be no crime.” It is an argument Bob McDonnell used during his time on the stand, as he said he never traded the governor’s office or risked his reputation for Jonnie Williams’ gifts.

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