November 13, 2017 / 9:06 PM / a year ago

Jurors in U.S. Senator's bribery trial told to keep talking

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The judge in the bribery trial of Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey told a jury on Monday to continue deliberating after the panel said it was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, according to defendant’s spokesman.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey August 18, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

U.S. District Judge William Walls sent the jurors home for the day and told them to resume their deliberations on Tuesday, Steven Sandberg, a representative for Menendez, said in an email.

A representative for the court clerk’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Menendez is on trial on charges that he accepted private flights, campaign contributions and other bribes from a wealthy patron, Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, in exchange for official favors between 2006 and 2013.

Lawyers for Menendez and Melgen have told the jury in Newark, New Jersey, that they did nothing wrong and that their actions stemmed from a close, brother-like relationship.

If Menendez is convicted, Republicans will be presented with a chance to gain a seat in the closely divided U.S. Senate, as his replacement would be named by Republican Governor Chris Christie. Christie will remain in office until Jan. 16, when Democratic governor-elect Phil Murphy will take his place.

The jury, beginning its first day of deliberations with a new member after another panelist was allowed to leave for a previously scheduled vacation, sent the judge a note on Monday afternoon saying they were deadlocked and could not reach a verdict on any of the counts, the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper reported.

“Is there any additional guidance and what do we do now?” the jury asked the judge in their note, according to the newspaper.

The judge then heard from attorneys from both the prosecution, who argued that the jury had only begun their deliberations again three hours earlier that day, and Menendez’s attorney, who argued for the judge to declare a mistrial, the Star-Ledger said.

Walls concluded that it would be appropriate for the jury to continue their deliberations.

If found guilty of all charges, Menendez could face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry

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