As they began their sixth day of deliberations Wednesday, jurors in the fraud trial of Nathan A. Chapman Jr. asked what would happen if they were unable to reach agreement on one or more of the charges against the once-prominent investment banker.
The note to U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. was the most substantive communication yet from a jury that has been considering allegations that Chapman defrauded the Maryland state pension fund of nearly $5 million and looted more than $500,000 from companies under his control.
Quarles instructed the jurors to continue deliberating, which they did until 4 p.m., when they adjourned until Thursday.
Late in the day, jurors asked for clarification of a typographical error on the final page of a 27-page verdict form. The fact that jurors are at that point on the form might indicate that they are close to concluding their work.
Referring to the earlier note, University of Maryland School of Law professor Michael Millemann said, "I think it suggests they've reached decisions on some of the counts and are having problems with others, and it suggests they will come back relatively soon."
Still, Millemann said that although speculating on the meaning of jury communication is a popular courthouse pastime, gleaning reliable information from it is virtually impossible. "Everybody's reading tea leaves," he said.
He and another legal expert said that in a case of this complexity -- Chapman is charged with 32 felony counts in connection with three alleged fraud schemes -- six days of deliberations is not an unusual length of time.
As a general rule, lawyers say, each week of testimony equates to a day of deliberation. Testimony in this case went on for more than six weeks. Attorneys for both sides have declined to comment throughout the trial.
The jury's note to Quarles said: "What happens in the event we are unable to reach a unanimous agreement on a particular count or counts?"
Quarles declined to give the jury what is known as an Allen charge, in which jurors are encouraged to reconsider their positions and strive to reach unanimity -- an instruction defense attorneys typically dislike. Quarles told attorneys for both sides that he considered such a step premature.
He then summoned the jury and said: "If you are unable to reach a verdict on some counts, but you can on others, that's perfectly within your authority. . . . It's entirely up to you."
Jose F. Anderson, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, agreed that the length of the deliberations was no surprise. "To get 12 people to agree on 32 counts -- that's quite a lot of work, and these are very grave issues." He said the relative silence from the jury "might suggest they're doing pretty good."
Chapman is accused of investing a portion of the $140 million of state pension money he once managed in his own companies, losing nearly $5 million in the process. He also is charged with improperly taking more than $500,000 from his companies, spending some of it on extramarital affairs and failing to account for it as income.