LOS ANGELES – A federal judge declared a mistrial Friday after jurors told him deliberations had grown hostile in the marriage fraud case of Mexican-born actress Fernanda Romero and her husband.
The couple were accused of entering a sham marriage designed to allow the soap opera star to get a green card and stay in the United States.
Jurors sent U.S. District Judge Manuel Real a note Thursday on just the second day of deliberations, saying one panelist had a hostile attitude and was ignoring evidence.
Another juror told the judge chances were "nonexistent" of reaching unanimous verdicts on charges of marriage fraud and lying on immigration forms. Real said he was surprised at the jury's response.
"This is the first time in my years on the bench I've had this problem," he said.
Real scheduled a status conference for January.
"We're very disappointed the jury couldn't reach a verdict," said Romero's attorney Michael Nasatir. "These are two of the nicest people I've ever met. They are not a danger to society, and enough is enough."
Romero, whose full name is Maria Fernanda Romero Martinez, has modeled and had a bit role in the film "Drag Me to Hell," but she is best known for her role in the Mexican soap opera "Eternamente Tuya."
She had been living in Los Angeles for 10 years when she and musician Kent Ross, both 28, married in 2005, but federal prosecutors said they never lived together and in 2006 the actress had a relationship with fashion photographer Markus Klinko.
Defense attorneys tried to portray the allegations as coming from a spurned lover.
At her trial, Romero testified that she married Ross for love. But she and Ross said the relationship began deteriorating within six months.
Asked why he never sought a divorce, Ross said he never stopped loving Romero.
Prosecutors contended Ross, a musician and pizza restaurant manager, was paid $5,000 to marry Romero so she could obtain permanent residency.
The pair maintained separate apartments and Ross, under questioning, acknowledged that he never told his mother or brother about the marriage.
Prosecutors also called witnesses who said the couple told them the marriage was fake.
Klinko testified that he and Romero were in an intimate relationship in 2006 when she told him that she was married.
"She said she had gotten married for a green card," Klinko said.
If convicted, the defendants could have faced five-year terms in federal prison.
Associated Press Writers Anthony McCartney and Greg Risling contributed to this report.