NEWARK — The jury weighing bribery charges against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a note Monday that its members are deadlocked on whether to convict him — but the trial judge told it to take the rest of the day off and try again.
"As of 2 p.m., on behalf of all the jurors, we cannot reach a unanimous decision on any of the charges," the jury wrote in the note to U.S. District Judge William Walls. "Is there any additional guidance? And what do we do now?"
The judge decided to send the jury home an hour early so it could try again starting Tuesday morning.
Outside the courthouse, Menendez said, "Clearly there are jurors who believe in my innocence. . . . I believe no juror should be coerced."
The note from the jury came on the first day of deliberations after a female juror was excused from the panel for a long-planned vacation and replaced with an alternate. After participating in deliberations for more than two days, that former juror predicted the panel would end in a hung jury.
Menendez is accused of engaging in a corrupt bargain with Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen. Prosecutors say the senator took gifts such as a luxury hotel stay, private flights and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Melgen, and in return, Menendez acted as the doctor's "personal senator," advocating on his behalf on various government matters.
Menendez and Melgen's lawyers have argued there was no corrupt agreement, just acts of friendship between two men who have known each other for more than a decade and liked to spend vacation time together.
There is more at stake in the trial than just the balance of power between Republicans and Democrats in the narrowly divided U.S. Senate. Some lawyers say a defeat for the Justice Department in the Menendez case could make prosecutors more reluctant to pursue corruption charges against elected officials.
After the note was sent to the judge, prosecutor Peter Koski said the jury had been deliberating only a couple of hours with its new juror and asked that Walls tell them to continue talking.
Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell said 11 of the 12 jurors have been deliberating for several days and asked that Walls declare a mistrial.
If the jury comes back Tuesday and again insists it is deadlocked, the judge would probably end up reading it an instruction known as an Allen charge — a final plea to jurors to do everything within reason to reach a unanimous verdict.
After being released, the excused juror said Thursday she felt strongly that Menendez was not guilty.
"What I saw, the government didn't give me enough. So I think the defense showed me enough to say he's not guilty on every count," Juror No. 8, Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby, said as she left the courthouse.
She said other jurors want to vote not guilty on some counts, "but I'm the only one that's held out that he's not guilty on every single charge."
The panel heard nine weeks of testimony before beginning its deliberations last week.