Menendez trial jurors say they're deadlocked; judge says sleep on it

 Menendez trial jurors say they're deadlocked; judge says sleep on it

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., leaves the federal courthouse Nov. 13, 2017, in Newark, N.J., after jurors in his bribery trial sent the judge a note saying they "can't reach a unanimous verdict on any of the charges."

NEWARK, N.J. — After jurors slipped a note to court officials saying they were deadlocked on criminal corruption charges against Sen. Bob Menendez, the judge told them to go home and return Tuesday with a new outlook.

The note from jurors capped a head-spinning day at the federal courthouse in Newark, where the New Jersey Democrats corruption trial is now in its 11th week. 

As of 2 p.m., on behalf of all jurors, we cannot reach a unanimous decision on any of the charges. Is there any additional guidance? And what do we do now?

A hung jury would punctuate the trial with a massive question mark and require the government to decide whether to try the case over again.

“Go home, get a breath of fresh air or rain, or whatever it may be doing out there,” U.S. District Judge William H. Walls said.

Earlier Monday, four jurors and three alternates told Walls that they had read or heard something about the case since Thursday when a juror excused from deliberations caused an uproar by telling reporters that Menendez was innocent, the government was corrupt and the jury was divided.

That prompted Walls to interview the affected jurors one by one in his chambers. After about 20 minutes, Walls emerged and instructed the jury begin its deliberations “from scratch” with an alternate taking the place of the excused juror.

He did not dismiss any of the jurors who said they had read or heard about the case.

“You are now a new jury,” Walls said. “You are to disregard whatever you negotiated or deliberated on last week. Youre starting afresh.”

But 11 of the 12 jurors deliberating Monday already had spent three full days discussing the case, and it took the panel only three hours Monday to conclude it was deadlocked.

"I believe no juror should be coerced," Menendez said on his way out of the courthouse Monday. “I would hope that at the end of the day after they finish tomorrow, that those who continue to believe in my innocence will stand strong.”

Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby, excused from the jury last week so she could take a long-planned trip to the Bahamas, told reporters she thought Menendez was "not guilty on all counts" and predicted the trial would end in a hung jury.

The 61-year-old resident of Hillside, N.J., also suggested that her fellow jurors had prevented her from sending a note to Walls and stalled deliberations in hopes of getting an alternate who was less dug-in on her view of the case.

Menendez lawyer Abbe Lowell argued Monday morning that Arroyo-Maultsbys claims raised the possibility that some jurors had committed misconduct, and he pleaded with Walls to ask jurors whether the womans account was true.

Lowell, who was present in Walls' chambers when the judge talked to jurors, also said one juror had admitted to discussing the case with a co-worker and another had discussed it with a spouse. Walls repeatedly instructed them throughout the trial not to discuss the case with anyone outside the courtroom until a verdict had been reached.

Adam Lurie, a former federal prosecutor who now heads the government investigations practice at the Linklaters law firm in Washington, said a hung jury would "call into question the governments theory and ability to win a conviction and the governments ability to proceed on a similar theory."

“The feedback from the one juror who has spoken out was pretty powerful," Lurie said. "Its always difficult to convince 12 people beyond a reasonable doubt to find a defendant guilty. It seems particularly difficult on these facts so far."

But Michael Weinstein, chairman of the white-collar defense practice at Cole Shotz in Newark, said he thought the government would request a new trial in the event of a hung jury.

"If they abandon the case, its a recognition the case should never have been brought in the first place, and I dont see the government coming to that conclusion," Weinstein said.

Menendez stands accused of using his office to help co-defendant Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye doctor and longtime friend, to secure visas for his foreign girlfriends and to intervene in a lucrative port security contract in the Dominican Republic and a multimillion-dollar Medicare dispute.

In exchange, Menendez took bribes in the form of luxury vacations, free flights on Melgens private jets and $660,000 in political contributions, prosecutors argued in court.

Menendez has vigorously denied the charges, saying that he will be vindicated at trial and run for re-election next year.

In total, Menendez faces six counts of bribery, three counts of honest services fraud, one count of conspiracy, one count of interstate travel to carry out bribery and one count of making false statements on his congressional financial disclosures to conceal the crimes. Melgen faces the same charges except the false statements accusation.

The fraud charges carry the most serious penalty, up to 20 years in prison.

Contributing: Herb Jackson, The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record. Follow Nicholas Pugliese on Twitter: @nickpugz


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