NEWARK, N.J. – Jurors in U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez’s bribery trial told the judge on Monday that they were deadlocked on all 18 charges filed against the senator and his co-defendant.
“We cannot reach a unanimous decision on any of the charges,” the jury wrote in a note to the judge at 2 p.m. “Is there any additional guidance? What can we do now?”
U.S. District Judge William H. Walls sent jurors home for the day at 2:30 p.m. – just a few hours after he had instructed a newly constituted panel to start deliberations “from scratch.” He told them to resume deliberations Tuesday.
Walls dismissed a juror after the third full day of deliberations on Thursday to accommodate her longtime plans to go on vacation. That juror was replaced by an alternate.
“Go home and have a good meal,” Walls told jurors Monday. “Have a good sleep. And I want you to come back here tomorrow to continue deliberations.”
The judge also repeated instructions he gave in his initial charge: that the government needed to prove its case against Menendez (D., N.J.) and his co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, beyond a reasonable doubt; that a verdict must be unanimous, and that jurors should not consider punishment in their deliberations.
Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Menendez, urged the judge to declare a mistrial, suggesting it was unreasonable to expect the 11 original jurors to disregard deliberations that began last week just because one juror was replaced. Walls refused to grant one.
Lowell also objected to the judge’s instructions. It “feels a little like you’re telling them you need to reach a verdict,” Lowell said.
If jurors again tell the judge they can’t reach a verdict, prosecutors could ask him to read what’s known as an Allen charge. “In essence, it’s the court saying, ‘Look, we put a lot of time and money into this trial,'” said Jeff Cramer, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago. In this scenario, the judge gently prods holdout jurors to reconsider whether their beliefs are “firmly grounded,” said Cramer, managing director of the Berkeley Research Group, a consulting firm.
If the judge were to declare a mistrial, the government could retry the case.
The day began with another clash between the judge and defense attorneys.
Lowell argued that the original jury may have engaged in misconduct, pointing to the excused juror’s remarks to reporters last week.
The juror, Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby, told reporters she believed Menendez was not guilty. She said in one interview that other jurors had suggested her vote didn’t count because she would be leaving for vacation after deliberations ended Thursday.
She also said jurors prevented her from expressing her concerns to the judge. In interviews with different news organizations, she gave conflicting accounts of the jury’s deliberations.
Four of the 12 jurors on the new panel, as well as three alternates, told Walls Monday morning that they had read or heard news about the case during the weekend. The judge interviewed them in private about what they’d heard.
Lowell, Menendez’s attorney, said jurors had engaged in misconduct if they prevented Arroyo-Maultsby from communicating with the judge.
“If you are suggesting that somehow this is the genesis of a mistrial, I’m saying you’re off target. You’re way off target,” Walls told Lowell while the jury was out of the courtroom.
“That’s life that they ran the clock out on her,” the judge said. “They didn’t have her vote. And they weren’t going to give her their vote.”
When the new panel returned, Walls said that “every juror has the right to communicate to me, at any and all times with regard to deliberations.”
Menendez is accused of accepting lavish gifts from Melgen in exchange for advancing the doctor’s personal and financial interests. Prosecutors say the senator tried to conceal the scheme by omitting the gifts from his financial disclosure forms.
Menendez and Melgen are charged with bribery, honest services fraud, and related corruption charges. Menendez is also charged with making false statements, for failing to report some of the doctor’s gifts on his Senate financial disclosure form.
The two men say they are longtime friends and did not commit bribery.
The trial is in its 11th week.