NEWARK — After more than two months of testimony and deliberations, the corruption case against U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez is on the verge of a mistrial.
On Monday afternoon, after deliberating for about two hours, the jury foreman sent a note to Judge William Walls stating that the panel was deadlocked on all counts against the Democratic senator and his co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.
“As of 2 p.m., on behalf of all jurors, we cannot reach a unanimous decision on any of the charges. Is there any additional guidance? What do we do now?” stated the note, which was read aloud by Walls.
The judge then re-read some of the instructions he delivered to the jury two weeks ago on how they should reach a verdict, how it’s their duty to “consult with one another” and how “you must make a determination of whether government has met its burden beyond a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of any defendant.”
Walls then sent the jurors home an hour early and told them to return Tuesday morning.
“I want you to cease your deliberations, go home and have a good meal and a good sleep. And I want you to come back here tomorrow to continue deliberations,” he said.
Before the jury entered the courtroom, Walls asked prosecutors and defense attorneys for advice.
Lead prosecutor Peter Koski said that since one juror had just been replaced, this jury had technically only been deliberating for a couple of hours.
“My recollection is that the jury began deliberating anew at 11 a.m. this morning [and] they had an hour lunch break. That means based upon receipt of this note, the jury would have only been deliberating a few hours,” Koski said. “Two to three hours after a nine-week trial. My recommendation is that the jury be sent back to continue deliberating.”
Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell said Walls should declare a mistrial, because despite the addition of the new juror, the panel had already spent more than three days deliberating before Monday.
“Under the circumstances and given all that’s occurred, it seems to me we should take them at their word, bring them back in, thank them for their service and declare a mistrial,” Lowell said.
Lowell also objected to Walls’ comments to the jurors, criticizing his selection of a small portion of jury instructions to re-read to them and the fact he sent them home early.
“By letting them out early with the instruction you did, it feels a little like you’re telling them that they need to reach a verdict,” Lowell said.
Walls wasn’t swayed.
“I see nothing wrong with it and if you see something wrong with it that’s your prerogative,” he said.
The jurors’ note did not come as a huge surprise. The juror who was dismissed last week, Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby, told reporters the jury could not agree on a verdict and that she believed they would be deadlocked.
“Everybody’s not agreeing,” said Arroyo-Maultsby, who was dismissed Thursday so she could take a vacation that had been planned before the trial began on Sept. 5. “Yes, there’s trouble in the jury room.”
Menendez, a Democrat and New Jersey’s senior senator, is charged with advocating for Melgen’s business interests with top U.S. government officials in exchange for vacations in the Dominican Republic, private jet flights, hotel stays, a car service and about $750,000 in political contributions.
“Clearly, there are jurors who believe in my innocence," Menendez told reporters outside the courthouse. "I want to thank them for that. I want to thank all the jurors for their service. But I believe no juror should be coerced. It seems to me that all of these jurors, save one, have been deliberating since [last] Monday and I would hope that at the end of the day after they finish tomorrow that those who continue to believe in my innocence will stand strong.”