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Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell leaves the federal courthouse Aug. 11, 2014, in Richmond, Va., on the 11th day of the federal corruption trial of him and his wife. / Bob Brown, AP

RICHMOND, Va. - After former Gov. Bob McDonnell took the witness stand in his public corruption trial, a narrative worthy of a nighttime soap opera got even juicier.

Jurors and everyone following the story that has dominated front pages across Virginia for four weeks had already heard how his wife, Maureen, had turned the stately and seemingly serene Executive Mansion into a house of workplace horrors with her incessant yelling at employees. They also heard how she sought the attentions of a slick vitamin entrepreneur while her husband was away or preoccupied with his job.

Then the man once widely considered a possible running mate for Republican presidential aspirant Mitt Romney told his story, laying bare the most intimate details of his personal life.

The wow moment came when the defense introduced McDonnell's melancholic letter to his "soulmate," professing his love for her and gratitude for their life together, apologizing for his shortcomings, calling her out for hers, and begging her to work with him to save the marriage.

"I am lonely sometimes," McDonnell wrote on Labor Day 2011. "I want to be in love, not just watch movies about it."

He was not specific about his faults, but clear about hers: "I am so spiritually and mentally exhausted from being yelled at. I don't think you realize how you are affecting me and sometimes others with your tongue."

And there were other revelations from his testimony: He got in the habit of working late to avoid going home and dealing with his wife's rage. He moved out of the family home and into the rectory of a Catholic church for the duration of the trial for much the same reason. He had no idea how tight his wife and the vitamin guy, Jonnie Williams, had become and was "hurt" to learn they had exchanged 950 phone calls and text messages. But neither McDonnell nor any of the other witnesses believed the relationship was sexual - and Williams had testified that it was not.

The marital discord is a key element of the defense as the McDonnells fight charges that they performed "official acts" to benefit Williams, the former Star Scientific Inc. CEO who showered them with more than $165,000 in gifts, trips and loans. The theory is that the McDonnells could not have conspired because they were barely communicating. To illustrate the point, McDonnell said his wife didn't even respond to his letter pleading for reconciliation.

Defense attorneys had prepped the jury for McDonnell's woebegone testimony by calling a parade of former Maureen McDonnell associates who portrayed her as petulant, suspicious, secretive, manipulative, accusatory and prone to angry outbursts. It's a character portrait that could bolster the notion that Maureen schemed behind her husband's back to solicit most of the gifts and loans, and engender sympathy for the former governor.

But it also could backfire, said College of William & Mary law professor Adam Gershowitz, who specializes in criminal procedure and evidence.

"It's a strategy that's fraught with danger," he said. "Normally, doing something unchivalrous like throwing your wife under the bus doesn't play very well with regular people, which is what you have with a jury."

Nevertheless, the former governor could beat at least some of the charges in the 14-count indictment if he is convincing enough, Gershowitz said.

Brad Long isn't on the jury and hasn't been in court, but the 34-year-old Richmond resident said he has been following the case closely and believes Bob McDonnell is guilty of nothing more than using poor judgment.

"It seems like his wife has expensive taste and is a little greedy," Long said Friday as he stopped by a suburban coffee shop. "I think it's more on her shoulders than his."

Long said he feels some sympathy for the former governor, and he believes the jury might, too.

Pete Borman, 59, of Richmond also has kept up with the daily news reports. He said that while McDonnell could get some sympathy from jurors, the former governor is getting none from him.

"They absolutely should be convicted," Borman said. "It doesn't absolve them of guilt because their marriage was falling apart."

Before the former governor took the stand, prosecutors had tried to discredit the marital discord theory by pointing out frequent hand-holding and other public displays of affection by the McDonnells. They will get a chance to tackle the issue head on when they cross-examine McDonnell, perhaps as soon as Monday.

But Gershowitz predicted a different approach from prosecutors who have used phone records, emails and other documents to produce detailed charts aimed at connecting the dots in the alleged gifts-for-favors scheme.

"They're going to hammer him on what he knew," Gershowitz said. "They will try to get back to let's follow the money."

Bob McDonnell's letter

The text of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's e-mail to his wife, Maureen, introduced into evidence in their public corruption trial:

From: Bob McDonnell

Sent: Mon 9/05/2011 12:54 PM (GMT -4)

To: Maureen Mcdonnell

Subject: (No Subject)

I love you. Yesterday was one on the lowest points in my life. We have had very hard year emotionally, despite a wonderful anniversary celebration. You are my soulmate. I love being married to you and having a family. We have shared much good life together. I have made plenty of mistakes in my life which I wish I could fix. I am so sorry for all the times I have not been there for you and have done things to hurt you. I know I am a sinner and keep trying to do better. But I am completely at a loss as to how to handle the fiery anger and hate from you that has become more and more frequent. You told me again yesterday that you would wreck my things and how bad I am. It hurt me to my core. I have asked and prayed to God so many times to take this anger away from you and heal whatever hurt is causing it....some going back years and years. He has not yet answered those prayers. I often lie awake at night thinking what I can do to try to make things better. I admit that I do keep away from you sometimes and don't talk to you about important things or problems to avoid confrontation. My whole life is spent trying to help my family and other people. Overall I am incredibly blessed to lead the life we have lead, and you are too. More great children, good jobs, material comforts and friends than most people ever have. I fight to continue to be humble and thankful for All God has done. l was very excited about this weekend to spend 3 days with you to do what we wanted. We started tough friday night but we agreed to a reset. I wanted yesterday to show we could work together. I planned to open gifts, walk to the river with you, talk to you(like you did when you bared your sweet soul a little about your childhood on the Aspen trip this summer) read, watch a movie and catch up on personal business. Somehow the best plans with us never work out. It makes me very sad. I am lonely sometimes. I want to be in love, not just watch movies about it. You are doing a really great job as First Lady...better than any I've seen and better than you probably expected as you were nervous taking the FLOVA job. l'm so proud of your public actions. Our private life though has great heartache. You tell me all the time how bad your life has been with me and how unhappy you are. l do not understand this. I am so spiritually and mentally exhausted from being yelled at. I don't think you realize how you are affecting me and sometimes others with your tongue. As you told me many times and bought the book, "don't sweat the samll stuff'. And everything is small stuff(Gary Smalley). I beg of you to think about conflict resolution in a peaceful manner. Ironically that was the focus of the readings at Church and Fr Jims homily yesterday. There is no problem we can't work out if we are calm and talk nicely and respect each others position. I am NOT preaching! l love you and want to help make you happy and our family endure. I will do anything possible to try to fix our marriage if you will work with me. Today I will spend on the many tasks I need to do:working on Dads estate(sad), paying bills, 2010 taxes,student loans, getting our files in order, letters to kids, sandbridge properties, etc. And taking at least a little time to read something for my soul! l know you work hard too to run a good office. Let me know if you want to talk softly. Bob

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry



Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read the original story: Corruption trial gets juicier with ex-Va gov's testimony

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