The former governor had hoped to escape any incarceration for his conviction on 11 counts of public corruption last September, with his lawyers arguing that a sentence of 3 years of community service would be sufficient.[read_more]
In the preliminary portion of McDonnell’s sentencing hearing this morning Judge James Spencer (yes, the one who is alleged to have been ruling with a conflict of interest for the entire case) rejected the prosecution’s arguments on the federal sentencing guidelines. The prosecution had relied on an assessment of the guidelines by the U.S. Probation Office in seeking a sentence ranging from 10 to 12 years, but Spencer ruled that the Probation Office had improperly construed testimony from McDonnell that was rejected by the jury as obstruction of justice under the guidelines, which is an aggravating factor to be considered in sentencing. Instead, Spencer ruled that McDonnell should not be punished for merely offering his version of events, thus lowering the range of a potential prison term to 6.5-to-8-years.
In making such a substantial deviation from the sentencing guidelines, Judge Spencer characterized the guidelines determination as “ridiculous” in this case, with this conduct and this particular defendant. He emphasized that the guidelines are only guidelines, and that he was not required to follow them.
Prior to handing down the sentence, the court heard from several character witnesses for McDonnell, including his priest, former NFL star Bruce Smith, one of his former commanding officers from his time in the U.S. Army, and a number of other associates. Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell is reported to have testified to McDonnell having the highest integrity and character. McDonnell also secured support from across the partisan divide, with former Governor Doug Wilder showing up to lend support and Democrat Senator Tim Kaine reportedly penning an eloquent defense of McDonnell’s character in a letter to Spencer. A common theme of the character testimony, according to multiple reports, has been the spirituality and piety of McDonnell, including his having offered prayers for the judge and the prosecutor.
Although the underlying conduct by McDonnell and his wife was improper, and certainly embarrassing, none of this should have risen to the level of prison time–even this substantial downward deviation from the guidelines. This sentence is an insult added to undeserved injury given the lack of any genuine official act that was undertaken or influenced by the lavish gifts bestowed upon the McDonnells by Johnnie Williams.
Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Mark Warner continues to walk free after essentially offering a state senator’s daughter a lifetime appointment to the federal bench in exchange for the state senator’s continued service as a member of a Democrat majority in the Virginia Senate. #VirginiaJustice
Maureen McDonnell made a surprise appearance at the hearing this morning. She is scheduled to be sentenced on February 20. Prayers for the McDonnell family as they deal with this incredibly difficult time.
McDonnell has indicated he plans to appeal his conviction.