RICHMOND, Va --For the first time, the pastor, friend and close confidant of former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, is speaking out about the difficult months following the conviction of the former first couple.
Father Wayne Ball says the McDonnell's have remained deeply grounded in their faith as they await their sentencing in the new year.
"The waiting has been difficult," Father Ball said. "The day of the verdict, I can say without a doubt, it was the worst day I've experienced... sitting in the courtroom with the five children and every time the word guilty was said, it was striking the children, the grief just became more and more profound."
In September, a jury convicted Bob McDonnell on 11 of 13 felony counts. Maureen McDonnell was found guilty on nine of 13 counts. Prosecutors alleged that both McDonnell's lent the prestige of the governor's office to wealthy businessman, Jonnie Williams Sr., in exchange for lavish gifts and loans.
But on Monday, Judge James Spencer tossed out the obstruction of justice conviction for Maureen McDonnell, saying "obstruction of justice requires more than a misleading note."
The obstruction charge stemmed from a note McDonnell wrote Williams at the beginning of the criminal investigation. Prosecutors said the former first lady was trying to cover up expensive clothing given to her by Williams, by implying that she had just borrowed them. McDonnell's lawyers claim that Maureen McDonnell had intended to return the clothing long before she was interviewed by investigators.
Father Ball believes the judge's decision is a "sign of hope" for the McDonnell's, who pray their convictions will be overturned on appeal. Ball says the judge's ruling symbolically comes on the first week of advent.
"I said, that's it! That's the candle. That one light, that's the beginning... the first ray of light in the darkness," Ball said.
Legal experts believe attorneys for the McDonnell's will focus on the term "official acts" in the appeals process. Attorneys say evidence and testimony never showed that the governor performed any official act that benefited Williams. The outcome of the appeal's process could set a precedent in corruption trials for years to come since Judge Spencer's definition of "official acts" was broad.
Each conviction carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, but legal experts say it's unlikely either McDonnell will serve decades in prison.
Father Ball says the former governor and his family are sustained by the overwhelming support of friends, family and even strangers, some who stop the former governor in public to talk.
In the media chaos that followed the Sept. 4 verdict, Ball says he remembers hearing a female voice calling out to the governor as they got into their car.
"She yelled, 'Keep the faith!' You have to hold onto those moments," Ball remembers telling the governor.
Father Ball says the McDonnell children continue to be a constant source of strength for their parents. The McDonnell's oldest daugher, Jeanine, is expecting her first child in January, just days after her father's sentencing.
"They refuse to lose hope," Ball says. "They absolutely refuse to give up hope that in the end, their parents will come out exonerated."