More than a year after an unprecedented corruption indictment, Former Virginia First Lady Maureen McDonnell will return to federal court Friday, as she fights to remain free from prison.
Federal prosecutors will seek a prison term of 18 months, while the defense will argue for no prison time. Instead, the McDonnell defense will ask for 4,000 hours of community service.
If prison is imposed, the defense has already requested a term of nine months, split evenly between a corrections facility, then home confinement.
The hearing set for 9 a.m. in Richmond will present Mrs. McDonnell with an opportunity to directly address U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer, as defendants are allowed to deliver a statement before sentences are imposed.
Although she has only spoken during initial proceedings, never testifying during trial, an excerpt from Mrs. McDonnell’s sealed pre-sentence investigation report reveals a tone of defiance from the former first lady.
“I never attempted to or did commit any crimes, conspire with anyone to deprive the people of this Commonwealth of the honest services of their governor, to influence Bob in his official acts, or to obstruct justice,” Mrs. McDonnell said.
Federal prosecutors released the excerpt in their sentencing memo to Judge Spencer, in order to bolster the government’s argument that Mrs. McDonnell has shown no remorse for accepting $177,000 in gifts and loans from Henrico businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.
In contrast with the 440 letters of support made public by former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell’s lawyers, the full cache of letters sent on Mrs. McDonnell’s behalf remains shielded from public view.
Defense lawyers decided to include the letters within Mrs. McDonnell’s pre-sentence investigation report, a collection of findings largely from probation officers that is not open to public access.
Yet deep in federal filings, defense lawyers quote from letters submitted by two of Maureen McDonnell’s biggest supporters – her daughters, Rachel McDonnell and Cailin McDonnell Young.
The letters convey the defense’s viewpoint that imprisonment for Mrs. McDonnell would be inappropriate because of the trauma already suffered by her family.
“The thing that has hurt Mom the most is watching her kids go through all of this pain,” McDonnell Young wrote to Judge Spencer. “Our mother is the kind of person who would walk to the end of the earth and beyond for her children.
The defense then quotes from the sealed letter from Rachel McDonnell.
“My mom has faced public humiliation beyond anything I could have imagined, and I truly believe she has suffered enough,” Rachel McDonnell wrote. “For a person like my mother whose entire life has revolved around the well-being of her family, the damaging effects this experience has had on our family is the worst possible punishment she could receive.”
Around 10 character witnesses will take the stand during Friday’s proceeding. Lawyers and witnesses will likely invoke the integrity of Mrs. McDonnell’s family – her father served as a United States Marine in the Battles of Iwo Jima and Saipan, later working for the FBI and the State Department.
Former Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected to be in the courtroom, but it is unclear if the McDonnell’s oldest child, Janine McDonnell Zubowsky, will attend.
Zubowsky recently gave birth to the McDonnells’ first grandchild days after the former governor’s sentencing, and wrote a scathing letter blaming Mrs. McDonnell for a broken marriage.
“Sadly, my opinion is that my mom has had mental health issues for many years,” McDonnell Zubowsky wrote before her father’s January sentencing. “She does not operate rationally, which has led to a complete breakdown in communication between my parents.”
The defense has already filed a motion to keep Mrs. McDonnell free, pending the conclusion of her appeal. The former first lady will be sentenced on eight of 13 criminal counts from the original indictment.