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VA’s Ex-Gov. McDonnell Gets Two Years in Prison

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) - Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who was convicted in September on corruption charges, was sentenced on Tuesday to two years in prison and two additional years of supervised release for those crimes.

The decision by U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer came after nearly five hours of tearful testimony from character witnesses extolling the former governor's endeavors as a politician, service member and family man.

"The facts of this case could not be ignored," Judge Spencer said in his closing statements. "This is a serious offense, all the grace and mercy I can muster cannot cover it all."

In their closing arguments, the prosecution, who moved for a sentence of 10 to 12 years, claimed anything less would "further erode the public's trust in their elected officials - and that trust is the bedrock for democracy."

To support their position, they cited the case of Phillip Hamilton, the former high-ranking member of the Virginia House of Delegates, who was sentenced to 9 1/2 years on bribery and extortion charges to August 2011.

When it was their turn to speak, McDonnell's counsel sought to portray their client as a compassionate public official deserving of a merciful sentence.

More than 450 supportive letters from colleagues, constituents, friends and family members were submitted to the court prior to sentencing, many of them insisting that a sentence of 6,000 hours community service was "sufficient, but not greater than necessary."

The courtroom was packed with McDonnell supporters, religious leaders and charity workers, who were called to the witness stand by the defense to bolster its portrayal of the former governor as a public servant.

L. Douglas Wilder, himself a former Virginia governor and the former mayor of Richmond, testified that McDonnell's loss of reputation has been punishment enough.

"He's been stigmatized, he's been hurt and wounded almost permanently," said Wilder, who asked Judge Spencer to "temper justice with mercy."

McDonnell's younger sister, Nancy McDonnell Naisawald said, revocation of the former governor's right to vote is his most egregious penalty. "We are heartbroken, devastated, shocked," said Naisawald."He has the heart of a servant. Use him for God."

Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell cited the deterrent effects of the trial, including a 2014 ethics reform and "significant amendments to policies on gifts in 2015."

Judge Spencer maintained that though there was a factual matrix for guideline sentencing, discretionary judgment is a constitutional right.

"McDonnell got all the process that was due to him," Judge Spencer said. "Whether or not you prevail is not how you determine if a trial is fair."

McDonnell will pay $1,100 in assessments in addition to his other penalties, and is prevented from opening lines of credit without approved probationary consent. He sentence is set to begin before 2 pm on Feb. 9. Yesterday's motion for release pending appeal remains undecided.

Judge Spencer also recommended that McDonnell be imprisoned at a Petersburg facility close to his home.

McDonnell, who was once touted as a possible contender for the White House, was found guilty of 11 counts including obstruction of justice, lying on personal finances and accepting more than $177,000 in perks from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his vitamin supplement business. The former governor was convicted Sept. 4 after a six week trial, 74 witness testimonies and more than five million pages of documents.

"I hold myself fully accountable for all my words and all my actions that I took as governor of Virginia," McDonnell said in his closing statement. He asked that his wife be considered for alternative sentencing before himself.

Maureen McDonnell, who was found guilty of nine charges, is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 20.

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