Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez's (N.J.) lengthy corruption trial ended Thursday in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked on all charges.
The jury announced in a note before lunch Thursday that it could not reach a unanimous decision, the Washington Post reports, "nor are we willing to move away from our strong convictions."
A mistrial is a major victory for a senator who had to fight 18 counts of alleged corruption, and a setback for the Justice Department, whose efforts to combat public corruption have been curtailed by a recent Supreme Court decision.
After receiving Thursday’s note, U.S. District Court Judge William Walls decided to interview the foreman and at least one other juror in chambers, in the presence of the lawyers on the case.
Prosecutors had asked the judge to issue a clarifying instruction to the panel, telling jurors they could reach verdicts on individual counts in the indictment, even if they can’t find agreement on all the counts. Judge Walls rejected that suggestion, saying to do so would be "going down the slippery slope of coercion.’’
He added: "There’s no point doing something just to say you’ve done it.’’
Menendez defense lawyer Abbe Lowell told the judge, "I think we have to declare a mistrial.’’
"They are telling us in the clearest terms possible that they have done their job as diligent jurors. I think we have a real hung jury,’’ said Lowell.
After nine weeks of testimony, the jury has struggled to reach a consensus on any of the charges against Menendez and his co-defendant, Salomon Melgen.
Prosecutors argued Menendez took bribes and gifts from Melgen in exchange for his assistance with such matters getting his girlfriends visas and helping out with a Medicare dispute. Melgen, a Florida doctor, is already awaiting sentencing on a previous conviction for defrauding Medicare.
A 2016 Supreme Court case clearing corruption charges against former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R., Va.) has raised the standard for convicting public officials of corruption.