Jurors have described their deliberations in the trial of two former Tyco International (TYC) executives as "poisonous" and "irreparably compromised." The judge has called their notes to him "disturbing" and seems to be leaning toward a mistrial.

Nonetheless, Judge Michael J. Obus (search) concurred with jurors' request to return to work Monday morning, even after they wrote Friday that they had "ceased to be able to conduct respectful, open-minded, good-faith deliberations."

Obus must decide whether to keep pushing jurors to overcome what they have described as an atmosphere of animosity that has dominated the jury room in recent days.

"The judge is going to do everything possible to refrain from declaring a mistrial," said Christopher J. Bebel, a former federal prosecutor who practices securities law in Houston. "But there's only so far he can go ... in all likelihood it looks like his efforts will be futile."

The jurors are deliberating 32 counts against Tyco's former chief executive L. Dennis Kozlowski (search), 57, and former chief financial officer Mark Swartz (search), 43. The defendants are accused of stealing $600 million from Tyco.

The defense argued that the two men earned every dime and that the board of directors and the company's auditors knew about the compensation and never objected.

At the heart of the acrimony is a 79-year-old former teacher and lawyer who stunned the courtroom Friday by making what observers described as an "OK" gesture with her thumb and forefinger as she passed the defense table.

According to notes from other jurors, the woman wants Swartz and Kozlowski acquitted on all counts and has refused to deliberate any other potential verdict.

The defendants are accused of stealing from the Bermuda-based conglomerate they once headed by hiding excessive pay packages from the company's board and by selling stock at inflated prices. Much of the trial has been dominated by descriptions of flamboyant behavior and breakneck spending emblematic of the era of corporate scandal that produced a string of recent high-profile white-collar trials.