RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A judge sentenced former Virginia First Lady Maureen McDonnell to 12 months and one day in prison on her federal corruption charge on Friday.
Maureen took the stand at her sentencing hearing and told a judge she was the one "who allowed the serpent into the mansion." She went on to say "the venom has poisoned my family...and the Commonwealth," as she expressed her remorse over gifts and loans accepted from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, which led to convictions last year for both her and her husband, former Governor Bob McDonnell.
Several witnesses were called by her defense team, including her youngest daughter, niece, friends, staff members and government officials earlier Friday.
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Maureen's youngest daughter, Rachel, told the court the effects of the corruption trial are "the worst punishment" for her mother. Rachel testified how her mother believed in family time despite having a busy schedule and taught her the value of hard and faith. However, she said Maureen became less patient and more uptight once she became the First Lady of Virginia.
Rachel said the term in office was a difficult time in her parents' marriage and that her mother often cried after the five kids left for college.
Defense attorneys also raised the loss of both her parents and the near death of sister as other causes of grief during her husband's time as governor. The defense is asking a judge to give Maureen probation and community service, or a nine-month term split between prison and home confinement.
Earlier in the hearing, Maureen's attorneys argued the actual value of items involved in the corruption case was far less than $70,000 and that Maureen did not recognize what was appropriate to accept. However, Judge James Spencer rejected the motion and left the sentencing guidelines in pace, which call for between 63 and 78 months in prison.
Maureen's niece was the first to take the stand and called her aunt the woman who held the family together, saying "once she loves you, she loves you forever." She testified on how, even during here husband Bob's campaign for governor, Maureen took time to care for a hospitalized relative in a coma.
The second witness was a friend of 40 years who explained how Bob and the children were the most important things to Maureen. She said the former First Lady "struggled a bit" during 2012 due to staff changes, but "did not want to let Bob down." She said Maureen sought medical help and anxiety for counseling.
A former staff member also testified about Maureen's stress and anxiety, saying she seemed overwhelmed at times and was constantly nervous about letting Virginia down. A consultant told the court Maureen was often distressed and was bogged down by her own unrealistic expectations. He suggested she move out of the governor's mansion and seek counseling due to stress.
The former Homeland Security Secretary echoed the sentiment, saying Maureen was unprepared to be thrust into the spotlight and asked for mercy saying she was doing the best she could.
The Agriculture Secretary for the Commonwealth gave the former First Lady credit for her role in launching Virginia wine sales in China and called her "a good human being... a woman of faith."
A Bible study partner said Maureen was "always asking what she can do for you" and called the corruption convictions " a very small portion of her entire life." She also pointed to pressure on the McDonnells' marriage as a source of stress and asked the judge to consider giving Maureen community service working at Mary's Shelter instead of incarceration.
Governor Bob and Maureen McDonnell were convicted in September on several corruption counts stemming from their relationship with Williams. They were found guilty of taking more than $170,000 in gifts and loans in exchange for helping the former Star Scientific CEO promote the dietary supplement Anatabloc.