BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A federal judge replaced an ill juror with an alternate in Richard Scrushy's (search) trial Wednesday and ordered the revamped jury to begin talks again on whether the fired HealthSouth Corp. (search) chief executive officer directed a huge fraud.
U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre said the juror, whom she identified as a man, had "recurring health problems" that had gotten worse as deliberations continued. She told the jury, with the alternate brought in, to "start from scratch" in deliberations.
The jury has deliberated periodically for more than a month without reaching a unanimous decision.
In a speech from the bench apparently aimed at criticism of the jury's on-and-off deliberations, Bowdre outlined hardships endured by the members, including deaths of relatives and friends, illnesses and postponed family responsibilities.
"In short, these jurors ... have placed their lives on hold to perform this important civic responsibility of jury service," said Bowdre.
Bowdre again instructed jurors on the law in the case before sending them behind closed doors to start deliberations over. Her announcement followed a private meeting with attorneys from both sides.
Scrushy was in court despite the death of his father on Monday. The father of the chief prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, also died after deliberations began.
The jury has met only 16 days since getting the case on May 19 and has been off six days this month, including two this week — one for illness and the other for an unexplained emergency. The jury's seemingly relaxed schedule has been repeatedly derided in the local media, particularly talk radio.
The jury reported being deadlocked on all 36 counts against Scrushy on June 3, but continued deliberations after Bowdre gave them special legal instructions in an attempt to get a unanimous decision.
Prosecutors accuse Scrushy of directing a seven-year scheme to overstate earnings by some $2.7 billion at HealthSouth, the Birmingham-based rehabilitation and medical services chain. Scrushy is accused of making millions from the fraud through stock sales and bonuses.
Scrushy didn't testify, but his defense blamed the fraud on former aides including 15 one-time HealthSouth executives who pleaded guilty.
Scrushy is the first chief executive charged under the Sarbanes-Oxley (search) corporate reporting law. He also is accused of conspiracy, false reporting, fraud and money laundering.
If convicted, Scrushy, 52, could be sentenced to the equivalent of life imprisonment and fined millions of dollars. Prosecutors also are seeking $278 million in assets they claim are linked to the fraud.