Scrushy Jurors Deadlocked on Key Charge

Jurors said they were deadlocked on a key conspiracy charge against fired HealthSouth Corp. (search) chief Richard Scrushy (search) on Thursday and asked a judge whether they should continue deliberating other counts.

U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre was meeting with prosecutors and defense lawyers to formulate a response.

In the sixth handwritten note delivered to Bowdre in as many days, the jury said: "We cannot reach a unanimous decision on Count One Conspiracy." The word "cannot" was underlined for emphasis.

The note, with grammatical errors, continued: "This question have been asked, but a simple yes or no to this 1 count will let me know if their is a need to move on to the other counts," read the note.

Asking the judge directly whether the verdict on the conspiracy count must be unanimous, the note asked the judge to circle either "yes" or "no" to indicate an answer.

The panel has twice before asked for an explanation of the conspiracy charge, which encompasses allegations of fraud, false corporate reporting and false statements to regulators. The verdict form on that one count involves numerous questions over four pages.

On Wednesday, Bowdre explained the charge again and told jurors she hoped they would "continue to work hard to reach a unanimous decision."

Prosecutors claim Scrushy led a scheme to overstate HealthSouth earnings by $2.7 billion for seven years beginning in 1996. The defense blames the fraud on former Scrushy aides, including 15 one-time HealthSouth executives who pleaded guilty.

Scrushy is the first CEO charged under the Sarbanes-Oxley law (search), passed in 2002 in response to a string of corporate scandals. Besides conspiracy, he also is charged with fraud, false financial reporting and money laundering.