Deadlocked Menendez jury reaches out to judge for guidance

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

“What now?” is exactly what the jury said this afternoon.

They sent a note to the judge saying, “As of 2 p.m., we cannot reach a unanimous verdict on any of the charges. Is there any additional guidance? What can we do now?”

Defense lawyer Abbe Lowell said the judge should declare a mistrial. Prosecutors urged the judge to give the jury more time, and that’s what Judge William Walls did.

“Go home,” he told the jurors. “Have a good dinner. Get a good night’s sleep, and come back tomorrow.”

Afterwards, Sen. Bob Menendez stepped up to the mics.

“As I said, two and a half years ago when I first faced these charges, I was innocent, and clearly there are jurors who believe in my innocence. I want to thank them for that. I want to thank all of the jurors for their service, but I believe no juror should be coerced. It seems to me that we have been, all of these jurors, save one, has been deliberating since Monday. 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 and that at the end of the day no juror will be coerced into a decision,” Menendez said.

Menendez and his friend Salomon Melgen are accused of bribery conspiracy.

The trial was rocked late last week when a juror who was excused for a pre-planned vacation told reporters she thought Menendez and Melgen were both not guilty.

Sixty-one-year-old Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby of Hillside saw nothing criminal in the exchange of gifts and donations in return for favors between friends, she said.

“Dr. Melgen donated all this money to the Democrat Party. It goes to all the Democrats, it didn’t go in to Sen. Menendez’s pocket, so that’s why I said ‘not guilty’ to that,” she told the press.

Judge Walls never asked her to stay away from reporters and her words made headlines. She said the jury was divided, with more on the side of not guilty than guilty.

Walls polled the jury this morning and four of 12 had heard about Arroyo-Maultsby’s comments over the weekend. Three of the four remaining alternates had also heard.

The defense suggested the jury was now tainted.

Walls replied, “There is no way on this green Earth that this judge is going to declare a mistrial.”

And then, three hours later, with an alternate in place of the excused juror, the jury announced it was deadlocked. It was then that the judge said come back tomorrow.

A prominent defense lawyer, Joseph Hayden, said it’s standard operating procedure for a judge to order a jury back into deliberations. Sometimes it requires two or three notes to a judge, he said, before that judge will accept a deadlock.