Menendez trial: Mistrial looms as jury deliberations resume
NEWARK, N.J. — Jurors reached no verdict after another full day spent considering the corruption charges against U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and his co-defendant Tuesday, one day after they informed the judge overseeing the case they were deadlocked on all 18 counts.
Should the jury not be able to reach a unanimous verdict in the days ahead, U.S. District Court Judge William H. Walls could be compelled to declare a mistrial.
When jurors returned to the courtroom Tuesday morning after having been sent home early Monday afternoon, Walls read them instructions in which he encouraged them to keep trying to reach a consensus.
“Do not hesitate to re-examine your own views, and change your opinion, if convinced it is erroneous,” he said. “But do not surrender your honest conviction as to the weight or effect of evidence solely because of the opinion of your fellow jurors, or for the mere purpose of reaching a verdict.”
Walls also diverged from those instructions, called a model charge, to remind jurors that “this is not reality TV” and to ask them somewhat cryptically to consider one question above all others: “Why?”
Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell objected to Walls' additions to the model charge, arguing that they undermined the “balance” such instructions strike as honed through hundreds of trials.
“Your great desire to quarrel with me has no merit,” Walls responded.
Menendez, the senior Democratic senator from New Jersey, and his co-defendant Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye doctor, stand accused of striking a corrupt bargain to swap official favors for gifts and political contributions.
Both men deny the charges. Menendez has said 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 of up to 20 years in prison.
Deliberations in the 11-week trial began Nov. 6 and continued for more than 15 hours last week before a juror was excused to take a long-planned vacation to the Bahamas.
Walls filled the vacancy on the 12-person panel with an alternate and instructed the jury Monday to begin deliberations “from scratch.”
About three hours later, jurors sent a note to the judge informing him they were deadlocked and asking for guidance on how to proceed.
Jurors deliberated for about five more hours Tuesday without sending a single question or note to the court.
During an exchange with Walls after jurors had left for the day, defense attorneys repeated a request they first made Monday for a mistrial due to a deadlocked jury.
The request is significant not because it prevents Walls from letting the jury deliberate for a few more days, but because it means that in the event of a mistrial, the government can retry the case without the defense objecting to being tried twice for the same offense, otherwise known as double jeopardy.
Lead prosecutor Peter Koski responded that it is “premature” at this point to discuss “next steps.” He later asked Walls to consider instructing the jury about a so-called “partial verdict” in which jurors can reach a verdict on some, but not all, counts.