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Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has been sentenced to two years in prison on federal corruption charges. It's a lot less than the 10 years or more that prosecutors had sought. Still, McDonnell says, he will appeal. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: The courtroom in Richmond was packed with McDonnell supporters, including other former governors. A string of witnesses pleaded for leniency, saying McDonnell's acceptance of bribes in exchange for promoting a businessman's product was a lapse in judgment. His lawyer read from hundreds of letters attesting to McDonnell's integrity and compassion. McDonnell himself took the stand, saying he has been heartbroken and humbled. Kelly Kramer, a career defense lawyer with Mayor Brown, says all that clearly had an impact.
KELLY KRAMER: Judges always care about what people have to say about a defendant. And I think that the magnitude of the letters here, and how heartfelt many of the letters were, I think it helped to swing this.
STEPHEN FARNSWORTH: The truth is that Bob McDonnell has been a very committed public figure across his career.
LUDDEN: Stephen Farnsworth is a political scientist with the University of Mary Washington. He says the sentence is much in the line with polls showing most Virginians thought McDonnell should serve jail time, but not too much. And Farnsworth says the public drama of the trial, centered on so many sordid details of McDonnell's troubled marriage, has been its own kind of punishment for a man once considered a rising star in the Republican Party.
FARNSWORTH: It's clear that the man's political career has been ruined. His reputation has been ruined. His financial status - as bad as it was before the case started - it's even more precarious now. I think that it - two years in jail is a very powerful message.
LUDDEN: By no means, says Farnsworth, is this short sentence a defeat for the prosecution. He says Virginia's political core was shaken by McDonnell's conviction and the hostility of the jury's decision. The current governor has called for ethics reform and Farnsworth believes politicians across the country will be more wary. After all, the essence of McDonnell's defense was that the sweetheart loans, vacation getaways and luxury gifts he accepted were simply the way things are done - part of the political culture. After his sentencing, the former governor told reporters he has faith in the justice system.
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FORMER GOVERNOR BOB MCDONNELL: But I have a tremendous faith and trust in the providence of the Lord Jesus Christ and his ability to mete out justice and so that is my hope for ultimate vindication.
LUDDEN: In the meantime, though, Bob McDonnell and his lawyer insist they also have faith in his innocence and will appeal his conviction. The judge today ordered McDonnell to report to prison February ninth. He is asking to remain free on bail while his case is appealed. That decision will come later. McDonnell's wife and co-defendant, Maureen, faces her own sentencing hearing later next month. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.