July 10, 2007 / 7:58 PM / in 10 years

U.S. judge tells deadlocked Black jury to resume

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The judge presiding over Conrad Black’s criminal fraud trial ordered the jury to keep deliberating on Tuesday after the panel said it was deadlocked in reaching a unanimous decision on the former media baron and his three co-defendants.

The jury, in its ninth day of deliberations, told Judge Amy St. Eve of the U.S. District Court it could not agree on a verdict on “one or more counts” in the complex, 42-count trial.

Defense lawyers told the judge they would have preferred to let the jury render a partial verdict immediately but prosecutors argued for deliberations to continue.

St. Eve sent the 12-member jury back after simply repeating to them a part of her original jury instructions.

The jury later told the judge that it planned to resume deliberations on Wednesday morning according to its regular schedule, which concludes daily around 5 p.m.

If the jury comes back with a partial verdict, it could be told to resume deliberations on the undecided counts. If the impasse on them is still not resolved, a mistrial could be declared.

Out of earshot of the jury, St. Eve told the court she has sent juries back two or three times when they said they were undecided.

The jury began deliberating on June 27 after nearly 15 weeks of testimony.

Black, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, and the other three are accused of pilfering $60 million in non-competition payments from Hollinger International Inc., the company that ran the media empire Black and his associates built.

They began dismantling the once-vast international conglomerate in the late 1990s. At one time, Hollinger’s major newspaper holdings included such prominent names as the Daily Telegraph of London, the Jerusalem Post and Canada’s National Post.

Black, former Hollinger executive vice president Peter Atkinson, former Hollinger chief financial officer Jack Boultbee and Hollinger lawyer Mark Kipnis are all charged with mail and wire fraud and filing false corporate tax returns.

Black is also charged with obstruction of justice and racketeering, and, along with Boultbee, with additional wire fraud counts for abusing corporate perks.

Black, 62, faces the stiffest penalties if convicted -- decades in prison and the forfeiture of millions of dollars.

Prosecutors contend Black and the others used the payments that should have gone to the company and its investors to give themselves tax-free bonuses.

Such payments were set aside from the sale of media properties and were designed to give the buyer a guarantee the Black and the others would not reenter the same markets.

Black was ousted as chairman of Hollinger International in 2003 after shareholders questioned the non-compete payment deals. In 2004 an internal investigation concluded that he and other executives presided over a “corporate kleptocracy” at Hollinger, once one of the world’s largest English-language newspaper publishers.

Black’s long-time partner, David Radler, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud and testified against Black and the others during the trial.

Ron Safer, representing Kipnis, told the court “from their note they’ve clearly been at this state for some time and it is our opinion that we accept this (partial verdict).”

Hollinger International is now called the Sun-Times Media Group.

Writing by Mike Conlon, additional reporting by James B. Kelleher and David Bailey

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