Political News

Menendez judge not ready to declare mistrial

Posted November 14, 2017 10:50 a.m. EST
Updated November 14, 2017 5:49 p.m. EST

— The federal judge overseeing Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez's federal corruption trial is in no hurry to declare a mistrial.

Jurors shuffled into the courtroom Tuesday afternoon, visibly exhausted, with no verdict in hand after a little over eight hours of deliberations this week.

"There's no hurry. This is a serious matter," Judge William Walls told the jury earlier in the day. "This is not reality TV. This is real life."

Menendez and his friend, ophthalmologist Dr. Salomon Melgen, face a combined 18 counts of bribery and other corruption-related charges. Prosecutors allege that Menendez used his office to help Melgen's business interests. Both men deny all charges.

In a note passed to Walls Monday, the jury, comprised of seven women and five men, reported it was "unable to reach a unanimous decision" after three hours of deliberations. In reality, the jury has labored for far longer, however, as they were instructed to "start anew" Monday morning with an alternate to replace a juror who had to leave after more than three full days of deliberations last week.

Walls let the jury leave an hour early Monday, advising them to "get some sleep" and "eat a good meal" so they could return refreshed Tuesday.

Further nudging them along Tuesday morning, Walls read a modified version of a model jury instruction that encouraged them to "re-examine" their views, adding his own embellishments along the way.

"It is your duty, as jurors, to consult with one another," he said. "What I have just read to you is not meant to rush or pressure you into agreeing on a verdict."

Walls also offered jurors one tip in their deliberations -- a question that they should ask each other as they discussed the case in the jury room.

"I want you to ask each other one thing: Why?" he said -- not part of the standard instruction.

Tuesday afternoon, defense lawyers requested that if the jury returns once again, reporting that they continue to be deadlocked, then the judge should question the jurors individually about their views and consider an instruction that would indicate a hung jury is a permissible result.

"We believe in resolution of disputes," Walls said, appearing unconvinced, "find me a case nationally that (says) a trial court instructing a jury that a hung result could be appropriate."

Federal prosecutor Peter Koski raised another piecemeal alternative, suggesting Walls could read yet another instruction to the jury indicating that a partial verdict is acceptable, meaning that the jury agrees unanimously on some counts but not on others. The judge said he would take it under advisement.

Jurors will return back to court at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday for further deliberations.