On Thursday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who had been charged with 18 counts of corruption by the Department of Justice, won a victory when his trial ended in a mistrial as jurors could not reach a unanimous decision.
Had Menendez been found guilty, he likely would have had to resign his Senate seat, giving New Jersey Governor Chris Christie a chance to appoint a Republican who could fill the remainder of Menendez’s term, ending in November 2018.
The jury released a note stating, “We cannot reach a unanimous decision. Nor are we willing to move away from our strong convictions.” U.S. District Court Judge William Walls then interviewed the foreman of the jury and one other jury member, as attorneys from both sides watched.
Walls had denied the prosecution’s request to instruct jurors that they could reach verdicts on individual counts in the indictment, even if they could not agree on others. He stated that to offer such instruction would be “going down the slippery slope of coercion. … There’s no point doing something just to say you’ve done it.’’
The jury, comprised of seven women and five men, has considered the case for nine weeks. During that time, schisms appeared; The Washington Post reported, “Last Thursday, an excused juror said she would have acquitted the senator, but predicted it would end in a hung jury. “
Walls had consented to juror Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby’s request to be dismissed for vacation by November 12; last Thursday, Arroyo-Maultsby spoke to the press and proclaimed Menendez’s innocence. Walls reportedly questioned the remaining jurors about whether they heard Arroyo-Maultsby’s statements; roughly half allegedly said yes. Menendez later praised Arroyo-Maultsby’s conference.
The Post reported, “On Monday afternoon, the jury sent a note saying it was unable to reach a verdict. Judge Walls sent the panel home early that day, telling jurors to come back fresh and try again.”
On Tuesday morning, Walls told the jury, “I realize you are having difficulty reaching a unanimous decision, but that’s not unusual,” admonishing them, “This is not reality TV, this is real life.” The Post reported that on Wednesday during a break outside the courthouse, five jurors formed a group while another purposefully stayed apart.
According to prosecutors, Menendez took gifts from Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor, such as a luxury hotel stay, private jet flights, and campaign donations. They charged that Menendez, in turn, attempted to help Melgen get U.S. visas for his girlfriends, including Brazilian actress and porn pinup star Juliana Lopes Leite, aided him in his $8.9 million billing feud with Medicare, and helped Melgen with a port security contract in the Dominican Republic. Last spring, Melgen was convicted on 67 counts of massive Medicare fraud totaling $90 million.
Menendez’s attorney argued that Menendez’s “deep and abiding friendship’’ with Melgen “destroys every single one of the charges’’ against him, adding, “Not one document, not one email hints at a corrupt agreement.”