Two hours into deliberation, the jury deciding Sen. Bob Menendez and his co-defendant’s fate has announced they are deadlocked.
The Democratic senator and his deep-pocketed benefactor are on trial for a combined 18 counts of bribery and fraud. Prosecutors say Menendez took bribes from Salomon Melgen, a wealthy eye-doctor based in Florida in the form of campaign contributions, luxury vacations, and trips aboard a private jet. In exchange, the New Jersey senator allegedly lobbied top government officials to get visas for his married friend’s mistresses and even attempted to make a criminal investigation into Melgen’s fraudulent billing practices go away. Melgen was convicted of Medicare fraud earlier this year for robbing the agency out of up to $105 million.
On the first day of deliberations last week, a juror asked Judge William Walls: “What is a senator?” The judge declined to answer the question. On Thursday afternoon, a juror was dismissed to go on a vacation in the Bahamas. On her way out the door, Evelyn Arroyo Maultsby told multiple media outlets that the jury was leaning towards acquitting Menendez and that she thought the trial would result in a hung jury.
Maultsby also complained that she thought the other jurors were trying to “run out the clock” on her and that her fellow jurors tried to prevent her from getting a note to the judge. Walls dismissed Maultsby’s claims: “Every juror has the right to communicate at any and all times with regard to deliberations,” he said. “All you need to do is to step outside the door. The guards are there, and he’s on hand to take whatever message you want to give to me in writing.”
On Monday, Walls ordered the jurors to start afresh in their deliberations after several jurors admitted they had read media coverage about the dismissed juror.
“You are starting fresh,” he said, according to CNN. “Forget about what happened last week. This is the jury.”
Several hours into deliberations on Monday, the jury foreman passed a note to Walls saying they were deadlocked.
“As of 2 p.m. on behalf of all jurors we cannot reach an unanimous decision on any of the charges,” the note read, according to Politico. “Is there any additional guidance? What do we do now?”
Walls ordered the jurors to go home and “clear their heads” and return to court to continue deliberations Tuesday morning. If Walls does declare a mistrial, the Department of Justice will likely refile the charges against Menendez.
The Senate can vote to expel a fellow senator without a criminal conviction, but they need a two-thirds majority to do so. If convicted, 84 percent of Menendez’s constituents want their senator to step down from office, according to a USA Today poll. But in a closely divided Senate, every vote counts — especially to Democrats, as Menendez’s vacancy could potentially be filled by a Republican if Gov. Chris Christie is allowed to choose his successor before Democratic governor-elect Phil Murphy is sworn into office in January.