A federal judge on Thursday declared a mistrial in the high-profile bribery case of New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, after jurors twice reported they were hopelessly deadlocked.
“There’s no alternative to declaring a mistrial,” U.S. District Court Judge William Walls said Thursday afternoon.
The decision came after jurors said they could not reach a verdict. It was the second time this week the 12-member panel told Walls they could not come to a unanimous decision.
“I think we have a for-real hung jury,” Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell said before the judge issued his decision.
Attorneys for Menendez earlier had filed paperwork with the court urging the judge to declare a mistrial if jurors remain deadlocked. Prosecutors asked Walls to instruct the panel to deliver a partial verdict on some counts if they could. Walls denied that request and said it would be “going down the slippery slope of coercion.”
The case against Menendez marks the first time in almost a decade that a sitting U.S. senator has faced a federal bribery charge.
According to the criminal complaint, Menendez greased the wheels for Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist.
Among other things, Menendez was accused of helping obtain visas for several of Melgen’s girlfriends as well as lobby the State Department on his behalf regarding a $500 million port security contract in the Dominican Republic.
Melgen, in turn, paid for private jets, hotel rooms and forked over nearly $75,000 in campaign contributions to Menendez.
Even though a bribery conviction doesn’t mean Menendez would be forced to resign, the 63-year-old lawmaker likely would face intense pressure to step down.
A recent Fox News poll found that a majority of voters think Menendez should resign immediately if he is convicted.
Vice President Pence has said that it would be “altogether inappropriate and wrong” for a convicted felon to remain in the Senate. However, he said it would be a decision left up to the Senate if Menendez didn’t resign.
Menendez, who is up for reelection next year, was selected to replace former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine in 2005.
If Menendez steps down from the Senate before Jan. 16, outgoing and widely unpopular Republican Gov. Chris Christie would get to appoint a successor. If Menendez steps down or is forced out after that date, the decision would go to newly elected Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.
Carl Mayer, author of “Shakedown: The Fleecing of the Garden State,” has called for Menendez to resign.
“Menendez and Christie are opposite sides of the same coin: They both have excelled in the dark darts of New Jersey politics, but they are both, now, at the end of their political careers because voters are tired of the swamp,” he said.
Meanwhile Melgen, 63, was convicted of 67 counts of health care fraud in April, in what The Palm Beach Post called one of the biggest Medicare fraud cases in the U.S.
The lengthy case against Menendez has taken several frustrating turns.
Jurors have been told repeatedly not to read reports about the case.
Four jurors and three alternates told Walls this week they had heard or read something about the trial over the weekend. He questioned them individually in his chambers.
And last week, Walls dismissed juror Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby so she could go on vacation with her family. That prompted Walls to tell the new jury — made up of seven women and five men — to begin fresh deliberations.
Panelists also asked Walls for the definition of a senator. The federal judge refused to answer.
He also declined a juror’s request last Monday for a transcript of the closing argument by Lowell, Menendez’s attorney.
Walls told jurors they would need to rely on their memories.
Fox News’ Tara Prindiville contributed to this report.