WASHINGTON – Sen. Ted Stevens had hoped a speedy trial would vindicate him on corruption charges in time for the Nov. 4 election.
But U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan shut down deliberations after a juror's father died and she rushed to California on Friday morning, before jurors were to begin their third day of work. Sullivan scheduled a hearing late Sunday to decide how much longer the delay should last.
He planned to speak to the juror by telephone to see if she could return in time for deliberations Monday or Tuesday.
If the juror cannot return, an alternate has been prepped by Sullivan and lawyers in the case. If an alternate is picked, jurors would be ordered to start deliberating anew.
With the election 11 days away, the 84-year-old Stevens is in a tight race with Democrat Mark Begich.
In the Senate since 1968 and now the longest-serving Republican, Stevens is charged with lying for years on Senate financial disclosure documents to conceal $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts from a friend, millionaire oil contractor Bill Allen.
The trial, which began Sept. 22, has been beset by problems since the case went to the eight women and four men on Wednesday afternoon. Within hours, jurors asked to go home, sending a note to the judge saying that things had become "stressful." On Thursday afternoon, in a more explicit note, jurors asked the judge to dismiss one of their own.
"She has had violent outbursts with other jurors, and that's not helping anyone," the note read.
Sullivan did not send home the juror in question. Instead, he called jurors into the courtroom and told them to "encourage civility and mutual respect among yourselves."
Tension in the jury room normally is viewed as good for a defendant. It increases the likelihood that jurors will not reach the unanimous decision needed for a verdict. Without unanimity, a trial ends in a mistrial and prosecutors must decide whether to start over.