NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Jurors completed a seventh day of deliberations in the bribery trial of Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and a wealthy friend Wednesday without a verdict, as defense attorneys pushed for the judge to instruct them that a deadlock can be an acceptable outcome to the case.
Deliberations began on Nov. 6, but the jury restarted Monday after a juror was excused for a previously scheduled vacation and was replaced by an alternate.
Outside the courthouse, Menendez thanked jurors he said were "asserting my innocence" in the jury room.
"I appreciate the jurors standing up for me in terms of advocating for my innocence," the senator from New Jersey said. "I hope they come to a verdict across the board of innocence, and I look forward to tomorrow being that day."
The jury deliberated all day Tuesday and Wednesday without sending any notes to U.S. District Judge William Walls, a possible indication that they understand the legal principles of the case but are entrenched in their positions.
On Monday, they had sent Walls a note saying they were deadlocked, but he told them to keep going and to "take as much time as you need." Defense attorneys felt other parts of Walls' instruction implied that they needed to reach a verdict one way or another.
Walls challenged defense attorneys Tuesday to show him cases to support their argument. In a 1974 murder case cited in their brief filed Wednesday, a judge told jurors that although it was an important case, "they need not reach a verdict and could continue to disagree" though they should try to reach a verdict.
Walls could instruct the jury that they can reach a verdict on some counts but not others. He also could give them what is referred to as an Allen charge, named after the defendant in a more than century-old case. It is given to a deadlocked jury and urges jurors who are voting against the majority to reconsider their positions to avoid a mistrial.
On Tuesday, Walls said he has not "come close" to giving an Allen charge in his decades on the bench.
The trial is in its 11th week. Menendez and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen are charged with running a bribery scheme between 2006 and 2013 in which Menendez lobbied government officials on Melgen's behalf in exchange for luxury vacations and flights on Melgen's private plane.
The men each face about a dozen counts including bribery, fraud and conspiracy. Menendez also is charged with making false statements for failing to report Melgen's gifts on Senate disclosure forms.
Both men deny the allegations. Defense attorneys sought to show jurors that the two men are longtime pals who exchanged gifts out of friendship. They also contended Menendez's meetings with government officials were focused on broad policy issues.
A mistrial would aid Menendez by not subjecting him to pressure to step down in the event of a conviction. Conversely, the charges likely would be hanging over him as he seeks re-election next year, assuming the government seeks a retrial.